When you think about the Christmas holiday, your mind is probably drawn to the many presents you hope to receive as well as the many decorations you’ll find around your home. From garlands to wreaths to Christmas trees, there are plenty of ways to spread holiday cheer through home decor. Many families that celebrate the Christmas holiday make it a tradition to decorate the tree together. If you have ever wondered why we decorate our trees or how it came to be that we decorate evergreen trees every December, this guide will explain the deep roots Christmas trees have throughout the past of many cultures.
Throughout history, the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, has fallen on December 21st or 22nd. Evergreen boughs have been viewed as an important part of the winter solstice celebrations for many cultures across the globe. In ancient times, the Egyptian sun god, Ra, was said to sicken at the end of the year and begin recovering from illness when the solstice came. Egyptian people filled their homes with green rushes of palm to symbolize Ra’s triumph over illness and death and remind them of the new life to come in spring and summer. Similarly, the Romans worshiped Saturn, the god of agriculture, and when the solstice arrived, the Romans celebrated the holiday of Saturnalia, taking joy in the fact that their farms would soon begin to produce crops again. To celebrate, they would also decorate their homes with the boughs of evergreens. In northern Europe, the Druids, who were ancient Celtic priests, used evergreen boughs in their temples during the solstice. The lush plant symbolized everlasting life, which they knew would soon return. Meanwhile, Vikings viewed evergreens as the symbol of their sun god, Balder, and displayed them in their homes in winter.
German settlers in America were credited with starting the modern tradition of setting up and decorating evergreen trees to celebrate Christmas. The first recorded Christmas tree display was in the 1830s, set up by Germans in Pennsylvania. Up until that point, Christmas trees were viewed as pagan symbols and rejected by many American families. Some Christians believed that anyone who cut down a tree and decorated it within their home was a heathen who rejected God because the displaying of evergreens came from non-Christian traditions and because cutting down trees was viewed as an act of destroying nature, something that God had created. This belief continued into the times of New England Puritans. In 1659, a law was enacted that stated that the only way Christmas could be celebrated was by attending Mass. If people decorated their homes, it was viewed as a criminal offense, and many people were fined for hanging up decorations. This law remained in effect until the 19th century, as more and more German and Irish families ignored Puritan tradition and celebrated the holiday the only way they knew how: with decorations and Christmas trees!
History and Origins
- Pagan Origins of Evergreen Trees
- History of Holiday Trees
- Holiday Tree History (PDF)
- Origins of Holiday Trees
- History, Facts, and Environmental Impacts of Christmas Trees
- History of the National Christmas Tree
- Behind the History of Christmas Trees (video)
- Christmas Trees: An Ancient Tradition
- Christmas Traditions: Evergreen Trees
- The Capitol’s Christmas Tree: A Tradition
Christmas Trees Around the World
- Fun Christmas Tree Facts
- Christmas Tree Facts
- Facts About Christmas Trees
- Interesting Christmas Facts
- Evergreen Tree Facts
- Fun Facts About Wisconsin Christmas Trees (PDF)
- Fun Facts About Christmas Evergreen Trees
Christmas Tree Activities for Kids
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