One of my favorite things this time of year is decorating the family Christmas Tree. I drive my family crazy because I like to have the tree up within a week of Thanksgiving, and like to leave it up at least until a few days after New Years Day.
You see them everywhere. In shopping malls, churches, schools. There are Christmas Tree's on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House. They have become one of the easiest to recognize symbols of the Christmas holiday. So where did the custom come from, since it's obviously not from the biblical story of Christ's birth?
The exact origin of the "modern" Christmas tree is disputed, but generally placed during the late 1400s or early 1500s in parts of Germany, usually around the Renaissance and the Reformation. The tradition of decorating an evergreen tree in winter is believed to actually predate these more modern beginnings, and in fact predate the Christianization of Europe. Pagan European tribes were known to have practices of tree worship, and the decoration of evergreens in the winter was quite common. The evergreen was revered for it's symbolism of eternal life. When the tribes converted to Christianity, this practice made the conversion with them, with the tree's seeming "eternal" qualities becoming linked to eternal life through salvation in Christ.
So that's a bit about the early origin. But how did the Christmas Tree go from small regional tradition to a global phenomenon? Short answer: thank Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert. Albert was from Germany, and when he married his wife and moved to Britain, he brought his traditions with him. In particular, he was fond of his childhood memories of the family Christmas Tree (in German, Weihnachtsbaum), and wanted to give his own children the same experiences. So the Christmas Tree became a common sight at the royal palace during the Christmas season, and, not surprisingly, was soon copied by other members of the British aristocracy, and eventually other members
of the upper and middle classes.
|Queen Victoria and Prince Albert around their Christmas Tree, 1848|