The history of the Christmas tree

You might get the impression that the Christmas tree has always been with us, but in fact the tradition of decorating a fir tree for Christmas is not all that old. It was not until around 1850 that the tree of light came from Germany to other parts of Europe. It first appeared in Sunday schools and then, around 1900, in the houses of liberal protestants families. In orthodox-protestant and Roman-catholic circles, the Christmas tree was shunned and thought of as pagan. This only changed after the Second World War.

Older tradition
The Christmas tree is decorated with lights, balls, sweets and presents. That seems to be an ancient tradition, and it is. Long before Christianity, fires where lit by holy trees. This widespread practise was outlawed by the church in the 452. Around 800, Charlemagne banned the lighting of trees and springs in his 'Capitularia' (book of law). You only need to know the story of Wodan who had been hanging from the tree Yggdrasil, the evergreen tree by a holy spring, and the reason for the prohibition becomes clear. This was an attempt to root out a pagan tradition.

The tree of light
It is a small step from lights by a tree to lights in a tree. In pagan times, artificial trees, a stick with side branches, was decorated with lights. The Swedes still have the three-armed candelabrum. When the production of candles took off, the lights moved into real trees. In a Frankish text from the 13th century a green tree full of burning candles is described. After that we do not hear about the Christmas tree for some time. Only around 1600 the decorated fir tree returns. This time in the Alsace, were around Christmas the tree was taken indoors and decorated with coloured cut paper figures, apples, biscuits, sugar and tinsel.

The paradise tree
Another decorated tree is the tree that was placed at the church doors on All Saints' and All Souls' Day (1st and 2nd of November) in early medieval times. These were decorated with balls and were called 'paradise trees'. The balls symbolized the souls of the diseased. It is very likely that the use of balls in Christmas trees derives from these paradise trees. Through the centuries a mixture of tree of life, tree of light and tree of paradise has turned into the Christmas tree. And all that is just sitting right in our front rooms.

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