For a few days now, stores and malls have started to put out their “holiday decor” far too early as usual, and in just a couple of weeks it will be time to decorate our own homes for Advent and Christmas.
In recent years, Christmas has become very commercialized, traditional nativity scenes giving way to plastic Santas and cartoonish elfs. It’s no wonder, that also true reason we celebrate Christmas is slowly forgotten by many, as we spend December going for parties, dinners and shows, busy celebrating in a time of what should be preparation for the Feast of the Birth of Jesus.
But what about our Christmas traditions? Many people that these have been taken over from the pagan cultures. Especially the Christmas tree faces a lot of criticism this way, as it has seemingly nothing to do with Christmas. But what is the true story?
The Christmas tree originated in Germany, and has only quite recently been popularized in Great Britain, namely by Prince Albert in the 19th century, who was of German birth. The royal family embracing this tradition led to it quickly becoming fashionable among the people of England – similar to wearing white on your wedding day, which was popularized by Queen Victoria’s choice of wedding dress.
The tradition of decorating a fir tree for Christmas can be traced back to 680 AD, when a Christian bishop, St Boniface, was sent on a mission to Hesse, Germany, which was still mainly pagan at the time. He saw that the pagans were celebrating the winter solstice by actually sacrificing a man to their gods. St Boniface decided to show the people that their gods were powerless, by cutting down a massive oak tree that was sacred to Thor, the god of thunder. The people, seeing that no punishment fell on St Boniface, asked how to celebrate Christmas.
The bishop indicated a young fir tree, that had miraculously remained unharmed in the midst of the debris of the fallen oak, and asked each family to take a fir into their homes: the pointy top pointed to heaven and the evergreen branches symbolized eternal life. Later, people began hanging wafers on the tree, to symbolize the Eucharist, which over time, were substituted for cookies and apples. Today, these early ancient Christmas tree oranments have given way to baubles and ornaments of all shapes and sizes. Candles were also added to symbolize Christ as the Light of the World, and though these have given way to LED fairy lights, many people in Germany still use real candles on their trees today.
Curious about the background of more Christmas traditions? Watch the video below, and be surprised at the unlikely origins of the traditions we now associate to Christmas!