ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Origins Of Christmas Trees And Their Decorations

Updated on November 14, 2012

Yule, Pagan Holidays And The Christmas Tree

Christmas trees are an old tradition in several countries. They make their appearance close to the day Christians celebrate as Christmas. In non-Christmas cultures, the tree is part of an overall, sometimes commercial recognition of this special season. In fact, this time of year, has been memorable among many different cultures throughout time.

For many, Yule, the Winter Solstice, Christmas, was the happiest time of the year signifying as it did that the wheel had turned; the Sun and longer days had arrived. The month during which this festival took place was Jol. From this, we derived the word Yule. Until around 956, Yule was celebrated on January 14, a Nordic Festival offering gifts to the Aesir. It was one of the few days people ate meat, the cattle being slaughtered on this day. The date became December 21 by the time of Haakon the Good. This was the old Christmas day and corresponded with the Winter Solstice. For the Romans, the period of Yule and Christmas falls into the now famous, and often misconstrued holiday of Saturnalia.

The Origins Of Christmas Greenery/Decorations

The use of evergreens for wreaths and other decorations arose in northern Europe. Italy, Spain, and some other nations use flowers instead. The Druids had a preference, at this time of year, for Holly, with its prickly leaves and red berries, and mistletoe. Ivy was also a traditional plant for the season. These plants are protection plants and some were associated with the Sun, rebirth, and the birth of the Mabon or Holy Child. A Holy Child is common among many religions.

Many ancient winter festivals celebrated the Gods and the return of the sun - or the change of the seasons. They used greenery, lights, and fires to symbolize life and warmth in the midst of cold and darkness. Today, we find this primal calling to warmth and its symbol, the sun, in the brilliantly decorated evergreen tree with its strings of multicolored lights and seasonal coloured balls of red, green and gold.

The Egyptians, Chinese, Celts and Hebrews used evergreens and wreaths as symbols of life (as well as immortality and death). In ancient Egypt, their “evergreen” - the date palm, replaced the traditional pine and fir. Egyptians brought these branches inside to represent the triumph of life over death. Ra and Horus are the Gods celebrated during this time. In ancient Rome, evergreens, hung in every home and apartment. Saturn was at the heart of this celebration. It was a time in which role reversal and gift giving were integral parts of the overall celebrations.

Tutelary trees and their association with the Gods are common among the Teutonic and Scandinavian peoples of northern Europe, where the Celts originated. They decorated houses and barns with evergreens at the New Year for protection, and often set up trees for the birds in winter. In England, the people wassailed the trees, particularly the apple trees, recognizing their worth, while asking the old Gods for a good crop next year.

Conclusion

Christmas and its decorations are not the result of a single tradition or culture. They derive from multiple ancient and modern sources. In fact, over the years, each family develops its own tradition, often combining those of their own parents, grandparents and great grandparents. The second part of this article will look at the origins of the first Christmas trees.

Sources

Aswynn, Freya Northern Mysteries. (St. Paul, MN, 1990).

Buchanan, R.H “Calendar Customs.” Ulster Folklore. 8 (1962).

Campanelli, P. Pagan Rites of Passage. (St. Paul, MN., 1998).

Wheel of the Year. (St. Paul, MN, 1989).

Durie, William. “Tree and Plant Lore.” The Celtic Magazine. 11 (1886).

Fowler, W. The Roman Festivals in the Time of the Republic. (London, 1899).

Krythe, Maymie, R. All About Christmas (New York, 1954).

Matthews, J. The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas. (Wheaton, Il., 1998)

Miles, Clement A. Christmas Customs and Traditions: Their History and Significance (New York, [1912] 1978).

Muir, Frank Christmas Customs and Traditions (New York, 1975).

Slade, Paddy. Encyclopedia of White Magic. (New York, 1990).

Snyder, Phillip V. The Christmas Tree Book. (New York, 1976).


Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 

      5 years ago

      Hi Bonnie and good morning from lake erie time ontario canada 9:48am where it starting snowing late yesterday afternoon and through the night and now I am stuck knee deep in all of this snow.

      Even the lake looks white today. How are things for you in Guelph today? Did you have a good holiday week so far?

      I really do admire your research here and it's always interesting to go back to the roots/the origins - thank you for educating me and enlightening me with a fascinating and absorbing read.

      Sending you warm wishes for your health, happiness and prosperity in the new year - I work in Hamilton and commute to the lake here

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)