The Roots of the Christmas Tree

By | December 21, 2018

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Evergreen trees/image from

Plants and trees which stay green all year, such as pine, spruce, and fir trees, have been included in winter celebrations for thousands of years. Some countries believe the evergreens had the power to ward off evil spirits and sickness. Ancient civilizations thought the sun was a god and that winter meant he was sick and weak. They would celebrate the winter solstice (which falls on December 21 or 22) because it was the shortest day of the year and the longer days which followed meant the sun god was getting better. They decorated their homes with evergreen boughs to remind themselves of the coming spring.

The ancient Egyptians, who worshipped the sun god Ra, thought green palm rushes symbolized triumph over death. The Romans worshipped the god of agriculture, Saturn, with a festival called Saturnalia, during which they would decorate their temples and homes with fir trees and evergreen boughs. The Druid priests of the ancient Celts also adorned their temples with evergreen boughs, believing them to symbolize everlasting life. The Vikings of Scandinavia worshipped a sun god called Balder and considered the evergreens to be his special plant. However, the tradition of decorating a tree in Christian celebrations is thought to have begun in Germany during the sixteenth century, though Latvia and Estonia both claim to be the location of the first Christmas trees.

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Family gathered around a Christmas tree/image from wikipedia

In addition to fir trees, early Christmas trees were also cherry or hawthorn plants that had been potted and brought inside in the hopes that they would flower at Christmas time. Some were not plants at all but rather pyramids made from wood and decorated to look like a tree. These fake trees were similar to the Paradise Trees, which represented the Garden of Eden, in medieval German Mystery Plays. The plays were performed in churches on Christmas Eve, which was considered to be Adam and Eve’s day in the early church calendars of saints. Often, the Paradise Tree was carried through the town to advertise the play.