Christmas Tree Legends

There are numerous legends associated with the Christmas tree and how it came to be associated with Christmas.

In one legend, today’s version of the Christmas tree dates back to the Pagan Yule celebration. The Pagan families used to believe in the wood spirits. They would bring a real tree inside their home in winter, in order to provide a place for the spirits to remain warm during the cold months. Pagans even hung bells from the branches of the tree so that they would know when a spirit came inside their home. Food items were also hung on the branches of the tree and a five-pointed star, the pentagram, was placed on top of the tree.

Another version of the legends about the Christmas tree goes back to the 1300’s. During that time, artists used to roam around in the streets carrying huge pine boughs, loaded with apples.  This was a kind of advertisement for the miracle plays they used to stage on the steps of the church, the plays about Adam and Eve, with boughs representing the Garden of Eden. Gradually, this “paradise” tree came to be associated with life and was named the “Christ Child’s” Tree.

Yet another legend of the Christmas tree revolves around the story of a Christian monk, St. Boniface, would preach Christianity amongst the Druids in England in the early days of the religion. One day, he struck down a huge oak tree, which was believed to be an object of worship as per the Druid religion.  As the tree fell to the ground, it splintered and from within it, a fir tree sprung up.  The monk declared the fir tree to be the “Holy Tree”, a symbol of endless love and peace as well as the tree of the Christ Child.

One of the first written references to a Christmas tree was made in 1605. In that year, a German tourist reported seeing a tree decorated with apples, gilded candies, paper roses and thin wafers. Around Strasbourg, there was a widespread practice of bringing trees (evergreens, not necessarily fir trees) into houses for decoration during Christmastide.

The success of the Christmas tree in Protestant countries was enhanced by the legend which attributed the tradition to Martin Luther. It is widely believed that Martin Luther first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.

In England, the tradition was made popular by the German Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. The Germans brought the Christmas tree to America in the 17th century. Public, outdoor Christmas trees with electric candles were introduced in Finland in1906 and in USA New York in 1912. The claim of the Pennsylvania Germans to have initiated the Christmas tree custom in America is undisputed today.

It’s not surprising that, like many other festive Christmas customs, the tree was a late adoption in America. To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred. The Pilgrims’ second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to stamp out “pagan mockery” of the observance, penalizing any frivolity. The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.”

Today, Santa delivers presents under the “Christmas Trees” every year to all the children around the world. Because not everyone lives near a place where they can go and cut down their own Christmas tree, Santa arranged for commercial Christmas tree farming to begin back in 1901 to help him by growing trees, cutting them down, and selling them to people for Christmas.

This planting tradition has caught on and sometimes people will buy live trees for Christmas, decorate them and then after Christmas, they replant them in their yards. This enhances the yards and landscape around their home, but it also saves the trees.

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