The Christmas tree (origin)

Before Christianity, ancient people in the Northern hemisphere used to hang evergreen on their door and windows. This is because the evergreen stayed, well, green all-year round, even during winter, representing the everlasting life. Some believed that it chased evil spirits, witches and ghosts. To accentuate those beliefs, around the 20 to 23 of December, the days were the shortest and the night the longest of the year. This is called the winter solstice.

Fast forward to the 7th to 8th Century, a young man from Devonshire, England called Winfrid wanted to bring the light of Christ to the pagan Germans. When Pope Gregory sent missionaries to Bavaria in 716, Winfrid heard of it and went to Rome to become a missionary himself. When commissioning Winfrid to preach the regions of Bavaria, Thuringia, Franconia and Hesse, the pope changed his name from Winfrid to Boniface, today known as St Boniface. He had great success in evangelization and the pope named him archbishop of Germany east of the Rhine.

During winter, the people of Geismar, Thuringia revered a huge old oak tree, known as the Thunder Oak dedicated to the god Thor. This was accompanied by human sacrifice, generally a child. Boniface reached the village on the Eve of Christmas and interrupted the human sacrifice taking place. Boniface took an axe and chopped down the oak tree with a mighty swing in the middle of the inhabitants’ celebration, breaking the tree into four pieces. Then, Boniface pointed to a lowly fir tree that lied beyond the felled oak tree and said:

“This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace… It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.”

Quote attributed to St Boniface

Boniface used the triangular shape of the fir tree to explain the holy trinity of God and converted the people of the village. Thus, giving rise to the Christmas tree in Christian Europe.

By the 12th Century, the Christmas tree was hung upside down in Central Europe and the first decorated tree was at Riga, Latvia in 1510. The modern Christmas tree, however, is widely credited to Germans who decorated the trees in their homes. One belief is that it is Martin Luther in the 16th century, who lighted candles on the branches of a Christmas tree. In England, it became popular only in 1846 when Queen Victoria was featured alongside her German husband, Prince Albert and her children in the Illustrated London News. Because she was well-liked by her subjects, it immediately became fashionable at Court and then, in the whole of England.

This is post 1 of 3 of 2020 Christmas special.

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