See that swell Christmas tree in your living room, the one with all the brightly packaged gifts beneath it?
Well, children, try to sit still while I tell you exactly how it came to pass that we dragged that lovely tree into our homes.
The first trees weren’t actually called Christmas trees because Christianity was not yet a known religion. They also – and this may come as a shocker to our younger readers – were not artificial.
The first trees were real trees and were actually a part of a pagan celebration of the winter solstice (Dec. 20 or 21).
According to a History Channel newsletter, Northern European pagans thought the sun was a god who went through a period of ill health in winter.
So they put up green boughs on the solstice. That’s the day, you see, when days began to get longer and their sun god began to recover.
Time passed, along with various wintertime tree rituals. But legend tells us that it was Martin Luther who in 1536 gave the modern Christmas tree tradition its impetus.
Seems Luther was strolling through a pine forest near his home in Wittenberg, Germany, when he was awestruck by the thousands of stars glistening through the pine branches.
It reminded him of Jesus departing heaven for Earth at Christmas.
Trying to recreate the scene for his family, Luther dragged a tree into the parlor and lit it with candles.
Voila. Or something like that.
His fellow Germans took the hint and began emulating Luther, except they did him one better. They began decorating their Christmas firs with gingerbread, gilded apples and trinkets. Tinsel, I guess, came later.
Some decorated a single branch with brightly colored paper and ribbons, leading English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge to write, in 1798: “Under this bough children and parents exchange presents with kisses and embraces.”
When Germans arrived in the New World, in a place called Pennsylvania, they brought their tradition with them.
But it didn’t immediately catch on with their American neighbors, many of whom still viewed Christmas as sacred and the tree as pagan.
Then came 1848. The Illustrated London News published photos of Queen Victoria’s brightly decorated Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. According to The Week magazine, East Coast ladies “went wild for the heartwarming scene – and Christmas trees became a staple of the American home.”
The coup de gras came in 1882 when Edward Johnson, an assistant to Thomas Edison, hung a string of red, white and blue lights on his family’s tree and invited journalists to come see it. Now we all had to have a beautiful Christmas tree with a swell string of lights. Tinsel, as I said, came later.
Today, the Christmas tree is a universal symbol of festive joy. And that is our lesson for today.
Have a blessed Christmas.
Contact Bob Bestler at firstname.lastname@example.org.