Back Talk – Why A Tree?
Question from Seth:
Why do we celebrate Christmas by putting up a tree? I was taught that Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Christ. Where does a decorated tree fit in this story?
Seth the simple answer is: It doesn’t fit exactly, it relates. The more complex answer is: It fits because of traditions brought to us by many different cultures that were mixed together in our big melting pot we call America.
It apparently started with a 7th century Devonshire monk who went to Germany to teach the word of God. He used the triangular shape of the Fir Tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The converted Germans began to look at the tree as God’s Tree. By the 12th century they began hanging them upside-down from ceilings at Christmas as a symbol of Christianity.
It is shown in history books that the first decorated tree was in Latvia, in 1510 by a man named Martin Luther. While walking home one night composing a sermon, he was impressed by the brilliance of stars twinkling through the trees. He lit the tree with candles to show his children how the stars twinkle through even the darkest of nights. The tradition was born.
Christmas markets were set up in German towns, selling everything from presents, food and more practical things such as a knife grinder to sharpen the knife to carve a Christmas Goose! At these markets, bakers made shaped ginger breads and wax ornaments for people to buy as souvenirs of Christmas. German people would take these souvenirs home and hang ‘em on their trees.
German settlers of Pennsylvania had community trees as of 1747. But, as America reached the 1840′s, Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most people. Now… By the early 20th century, an acceptance of the tree without worry of pagan symbolism was under way. Americans began decorating their own trees mainly with homemade ornaments. The German-American’s continued to use apples, nuts, and cookies. Dyed popcorn strung on string with berries and nuts were made into our first “garland” and draped around the tree.
Electricity helped the invention of Christmas lights, making Christmas trees able to be lit for as long as the primitive bulbs that size would last. Which initially was a few days. When the bulbs began to get more high tech and would last for months, Christmas trees popped up in town squares across the America and finally, having a Christmas tree in our homes became an American tradition.
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