A Brief Look at The History Behind Your Christmas Tree
First reports of people bringing holly and pine branches into their homes at Christmas-time date from the late Middle Ages. At the darkest time of the year, evergreens provide a symbol of the continuation and renewal of life. Live green branches were placed on windows, mirrors, and in vases, and was thought to keep evil spirits away. Over time, the function of the greens became simply decorative. Evergreen ropes (garlands) were draped over staircase railings, mantels, picture frames and along ceilings. Fearful that dry branches would catch fire from oil lamps or sparks from the fireplace or heating stove, families waited until almost Christmas eve to hang the garlands.
The decorated tree was originally a pagan tradition in Germany's upper Rhine region. A decorated holly tree was brought into the house and even placed in the village square. We know this because in 14th-century Alsace laws were written which forbade farmers to cut down evergreens for Christmas uses.
In the 15th or 16th century, the church gave new meaning to the customary symbol of life by decorating trees during the holiday season with apples to symbolize Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden. Greens were incorporated into medieval miracle plays and into a Christmas a play, honoring Adam and Eve, that was traditionally presented. An evergreen hung with apples, the fruit of knowledge, was the stage prop.
Families eventually brought decorated trees into their homes, adding to them apples, paper roses, and wafers shaped like stars, angels, hearts, flowers and bells. Tree decorations were mostly symbols of the new-born Christ. The star recalled that first Christmas night.
The early Christmas tree stood on a table and decorations were customarily made of food, principally wafers, cookies and candy. The gift-giving custom began when little items were hung on the tree, like tin cutouts, dolls, books, gilded nuts, fiddles and drums, work boxes, needle cases, pen wipes, ribbon, lace and paper chains. All of this is mentioned in early reports from the southern part of Germany and especially from the Alsace.
Candles served as a symbol for the returning sun. In the Christian tradition, candles represented Christ as the Light of the World. Further Christian symbolism of the Christmas tree include
· The tree points upward -- it points us to Christ seated
at the right hand of the Father.
· The tree is an evergreen -- it reminds us of eternal life.
· The tree is decorated with lights -- He is the Light of the world.
· The tree was cut down for us – much like Christ sacrificed his life for us.