Christmastime is coming up, and it´s time to get the Christmas tree. Why do we do that? What´s it got to do with the birth of Christ? Did they even have spruce trees in the middle east at that time? I have always wondered. Now, it´s time to find out.
It´s the day before Christmas evening and I´m sitting in my apartment. The neighbor’s daughter is practicing Jingle Bells on the piano. She has done that for over a month now so I was kind of hoping she should have got it by now but apart from the intro chords … she hasn´t. My apartment smells like spruce trees. I was in the forest yesterday felling spruce trees in the pouring rain and brought my work clothes back here to wash.
The whole situation with broken Jingle Bells and the smell of spruce makes me think: Why do we have Christmas trees?
The Christmas tree – an old tradition
I never really understood why you should bring a tree from the forest into your house or apartment around Christmas. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. Fine! But what has a tree got to do with that? How did this tradition start?
When I started as a logger, I was the only one in my circles that was active in the forest. Some friends of mine, and their parents, seemed to see me as the perfect way to get a free Christmas tree because of that. I wanted to help of course, but I had just learned that small beautiful spruce trees should be left to grow and become big beautiful spruce trees – not to be cut down and brought into a home. So, it felt wrong.
My (brilliant if you ask me) solution to the problem was to take the tops of old spruce trees that I had cut in clear cuts and give them to friends as Christmas trees. They never asked me again. My problem was solved, but ever since I have wondered why, and how this tradition started.
A long long time ago
I decided to find that out, and I expected that it had something to do with Christianity and the birth of Christ, but it didn´t. Or … well … maybe partly.
It turns out that plants and trees that are green all year round, also in the winter, had a special meaning for people long before Christianity. Ancient people hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries, it was believed that this would keep witches, ghosts, evil spirits and other unwelcome things away from the houses and families.
Much later, in medieval Livonia (present Estonia and Latvia) and in early modern Germany, the protestants brought decorated trees into their homes for Christmas. It became more and more popular during the second half of the 19th century, at first among the upper classes, and spread far beyond Germany and the Baltic States.
The trees were decorated with colored paper, apples, wafers and sweets. Lighted candles turned up as another decoration that later was electrified. On top of the tree an angel or a star might be placed to represent the star of Bethlehem or the Angel Gabriel.
The catholic church avoided this tradition for a long time but eventually, for the first time in 1982, the Christmas tree stood also in the Vatican.
You can read more about the history of the Christmas tree under the links at the bottom of this article.
Did this make us any wiser?
I must confess that I still don´t see a clear connection between the Christmas tree and Christmas. It seems to be a very old tradition that was taken up by medieval Christians for some unknown reason. Maybe they just wanted some light in the dark winter? Maybe it was just a way to hand out the Christmas gifts by hanging candy, etc. in the tree? I guess that anything that makes people feel better is good so … why not? I will have to keep on living without knowing.
I do know one thing though – If I see beautiful spruce in the forest, I will not cut it down to use as a Christmas tree. It seems to be the most humiliating way to treat a tree if you ask me, maybe even worse than making toilet paper of it.
Anyway, with or without a Christmas tree, from all of us to all of you:
PS. The daughter upstairs is still practicing. I wish her good luck with her efforts. I really don´t care how it sounds. I´m off to my fiancée’s in the forest to celebrate Christmas – without Jingle Bells, but with at least 15 Christmas trees as the woman of my life loves those. However, only one Christmas tree is indoors.