The Christmas tree is one of those lasting symbols of the season that has been with us for centuries. And yet no one is sure exactly of its origin. Some Christian scholars date it to creation while others believe it was a tradition that developed long after the birth of Jesus Christ. Today we focus on the history of the Christmas tree.
It's interesting that in tropical climates like Trinidad and Tobago one of the more enduring traditions is the decoration of an evergreen Christmas tree. Malls invest in trees to enhance the spirit of Christmas and many homes have Christmas trees like the ones you would normally see in North America and Europe, complete with fake snow to create the ambiance of winter.
An evergreen coniferous tree that is brought into a home or used in the open, and is decorated with Christmas lights and colorful ornaments during the days around Christmas. An angel or star is often placed at the top of the tree, representing the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity story. Toys for the children and gifts for family and friends complete the Christmas tree adornments.
The origin is unclear, although many experts suggest that it is associated with the birth of Jesus Christ. However others dispute that and trace the tradition to pre-Christian times, going as far back as the Creation.
Some stories show it originating in ancient Germanic history. Germanic tribes lighted trees (Tannenbaum) and celebrated the festival of light (Lichtfest) around the shortest day of the year, December 21. In many cultures, the presence of greenery in homes at the time of the winter solstice symbolized life in the midst of death.
Listen to Nat King Cole's masterpiece O Tannenbaum on YouTube
The Romans decked their homes with evergreens and Germans carried living trees into homes during the old Germany feast of Yule, which originally was a two-month feast beginning in November. But many experts say there is no evidence that the Christmas tree is a direct descendant of the Yule tree.
One of the better-known stories of the origin of the tradition relates to Saint Boniface who is said to have disrupted a pagan child sacrifice at an oak tree in AD 722. He cut down the tree to prevent the sacrifice and a Fir tree grew up at the base of the oak. He then told everyone that this lovely evergreen, with its branches pointing to heaven, was a holy tree - the tree of the Christ child, and a symbol of His promise of eternal life.
Another legend is that the Christmas tree tradition originated with the Christian reformer, Martin Luther. This story says that one Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, he was walking through the snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of the snow glistened trees. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a small fir tree and shared the story with his children. He decorated the Christmas tree with small candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ's birth.
Perhaps one of the most readily accepted stories of the origins of the tradition is the Paradise Plays of the 11th century. One of the more popular plays depicted the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin, and their banishment from Paradise.
The only prop on the stage was the Paradise tree, a fir tree adorned with apples. The play ends with the promise of the coming Savior and His Incarnation. The people had grown so accustomed to the Paradise tree, that they began putting their own Paradise tree up in their homes on December 24.
This is a credible connection because of the reference to the tree in the Book of Genesis, which tells the story of creation: “…and in the middle of the garden (of Eden) He set the tree of life.”
Hear Marion Lanza sing O Christmas Tree on YouTube