The Christmas tree we know today has emerged after a very long journey that began several thousand years ago.
In times past, our ancestors believed that spirits lived in and around every tree and that life-giving harvests depended on the goodwill of these and other mysterious and capricious beings.
They made sure to extend friendship to their unseen world by gifts and rituals which included bringing evergreen branches into their homes to give woodland spirits a refuge from icy winter storms.
Through the darkest season of the year, these ancient people cherished evergreen branches and trees as a symbol of hope that spring would come and crops would grow again.
Often these branches were from holly, ivy and mistletoe, but there is a story that in the 8th century, St. Boniface cut down a sacred oak tree in a German forest and as it toppled a fir sapling suddenly appeared. The saint realized the fir with its green, ever-living branches would be an ideal symbol of the Christian faith.
By the time the Middle Ages arrived another tree had become popularized in the Mystery Plays that were widely performed to devout audiences. These plays told of Adam and Eves eviction from the garden of Eden and the tree was often shown decorated with apples.
Gradually, people began erecting a Paradise Tree in their own homes for the religious feast day of December 24th. Often they chose a fir tree and decorated it with apples.
Meanwhile, another Christmas custom had taken root in some areas. This was a wooden pyramid of shelves which held pastries, candies and candles. It was often wrapped in flexible young evergreen boughs.
Eventually, the Christian symbol, the apple-carrying Paradise Tree and the evergreen-wrapped pyramid of decorations and goodies all merged into something similar to the Christmas tree we know today.
In Germany this Christmas tree was called the Christbaum and it was very small but before too long larger ones were chosen that were better able to carry edibles, candles and decorations.
The Christmas tree tradition arrived in England with Charlotte, the German wife of King George III, but it became popularized later by Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria who brought in fir trees every Christmas from his native Germany.
His family Christmas tree is said to have been lit with candles and decorated with sweet treats and ribbons with gifts piled at the base. Meanwhile, he made gifts of Christmas trees to military barracks, schools and hospitals all over Britain.
By the 1850s German artisans were beginning to create glass ornaments: icicles and balls. Electric lights were introduced in the late 19th century but took many years to become commonplace.
Immigrants carried the Christmas tree tradition to North America. Most of the early New World Christmas trees were very small and hung from rafters or were placed on tabletops.
The pioneers decorated them with simple foods from their everyday life such as strings of cranberries or raisins, gingerbread, popcorn and dried apples. All were eaten when the tree was taken down.
Heres wishing you all a very merry Christmas and many blessings in the New Year.
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