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O’ Christmas Tree

December 12, 2012

Christmas is said to be the most wonderful time of the year. We are far into the holiday season and no time was wasted in preparing for Christmas—displays were assembled at least by Halloween, Chicago’s 93.9 The Lite flipped the switch to Christmas music on November 8th, and Santa made an appearance on November 17th at the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. Cities and homes produce their best creations of holiday cheer: from garlands grasping railings, mistletoe awaiting the presence of two for a kiss, ornaments dangling from the limbs of evergreens, to twinkling lights hugging lamp posts. We are all so eager for Christmas to grace us with its presence; however, we know little about the backgrounds of the customs that we repeatedly practice. Here is a snippet on the origins of the Christmas tree and countries’ adaptations of this tradition.

Image

Image Courtesy of Sebastian Dooris at Flickr

Then

The beginnings of the Christmas tree originate long before Christianity. The typical foliage associated with Christmas was used as protection from evil in one’s home during the winter. For the ancient people, winter was an indication of the sun god becoming sick, and the winter solstice marked the beginning of his recovery. Evergreen branches served as a symbol that the sun god would regain his strength; while in Egypt, palms were used in homes to celebrate life.

The Germans pride themselves on being the first to bring a tree into the home. Martin Luther added the concept of ornamentation by attaching lit candles on the tree to recreate the image of stars shining upon the branches of evergreens. The Puritans thought of this as mockery of the sanctity of Christ’s birth. Putting a tree up in your home during the 17th century resulted in fines and penalizations.

Christmas trees did not become popular in America until Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their children posed next to a Christmas tree, which was sketched and featured in the Illustrated London News. Trees were then deemed appropriate for households in celebration of Christmas.

Now

While many associate Christmas with blustery conditions and snow in the winter, the Australians sing carols during the heat of the summer. The Christmas bush, which is native to Australia, is at its peak during this season, and the vibrant flowers are brought indoors. They garnish their home with the traditional evergreen and fern.

In the Ukraine, Christmas trees are adorned by artificial spider webs that are believed to bring in good luck for the New Year. An old tale tells the story of a widow and her family that could not afford decorations for their Christmas tree. The spiders residing in the home listened to the sobbing of the children and decorated the tree with their webs. The webs miraculously transformed into silver and gold when the sun shined upon them the following morning.

The focal point in many households is the Christmas tree; however, in Mexico, the nativity scene is the eye-catching feature. Trees are not as common because they are an extra expenditure that many cannot afford. A compromise between a real tree and no tree at all is the creation of a mini tree or an arbolito, which is usually a branch from the copal tree.

 

As the years go by, the preparation for the holiday season occurs earlier and earlier. We rarely celebrate the holiday that is present without planning for the next. We mindlessly go through the motions without taking the time to enjoy what surrounds us. This year, make sure to take the time to appreciate the traditions that you, your family, your friends, and history have created.

 

 

Bibliography

History Channel. “History of Christmas Trees.” Accessed December 10, 2012. http://www.history.com/topics/history-of-christmas-trees

Toast, Sarah. “Christmas Traditions in Australia.” TLC. Accessed December 10, 2012. http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/christmas-traditions-around-the-world-ga2.htm

Ukraine Channel. “Spiders and Their Webs are Not Showed the Door on Ukrainian Christmas.” Accessed December 7, 2012.  http://www.ukraine.com/blog/spiders-and-their-webs-are-not-showed-the-door-on-ukrainian-christmas

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