The History Of Christmas Trees

A brief history of the origins of the Christmas tree in pagan lands, to it's current status as the symbol of Christmas.

Christmas is the single most celebrated holiday in America. The time of year when we gather our friends and family together and engage in the giving of gifts, and in some cases, celebrate the birth of Christ. Of course with this holiday comes the image of Christmas. The warm fires, sparkling lights, cold snowy evenings, and softly wafting music are all part of the Christmas image, but what Christmas would be complete without the main piece? The one thing that above all others says "Christmas!" is the Christmas tree!

One might wonder, why on earth do we celebrate Christmas with trees? Especially evergreen trees? After all, unlike the nativity scenes, doves, and angels, that may or may not be part of your town's Christmas d├ęcor, trees are not especially Christian. One does not read the Christmas story as put forth by the New Testament and see any mention of trees.

The answer is surprisingly simple. Trees are the mainstay of the American Christmas experience because a very long time ago the Christians decided that they needed a more aggressive recruiting technique to generate more Christians. During the early days of Christianity, while the faith was trying to spread from its base in the Mediterranean to the far reaches of Europe, the Christians noticed that it was easier to gain converts if they had holidays similar to those of the people they were trying to convert.

Thus, as missionaries wandered into the Pagan wildernesses of what is now France and Germany they found people who celebrated the winter solstice. These Pagans believed that as the days got shorter the sun was going away, and if it did not come back, all of humanity would die. So out into the forest they would go in search of the largest living things they could find. The largest living thing was an evergreen tree, proof that life still existed even in the dark of winter. In addition to the great tree, the celebration to bring back the sun involved getting as much light as possible. So, a large fire burned non-stop while torches lit the homes of the pagans, and the living evergreens were decorated with lights to woo the sun back into existence.

After the early Christians spread to Rome they adopted December 25th as Christmas day to increase the probability of converting the believers of Mithras, a god of soldiers, sailors, and merchants, who celebrated his birthday on the 25th of December. Thus, it was not terribly difficult to show the natives to the north that they too had a winter solstice holiday. In an effort to be even more appealing to these Pagans, they to cut down large green trees and incorporated them into the worship of Christ.

By the Dark Ages Christianity was the prevailing religion in what had once been Pagan territory, but the celebration of Christ's birth with large green pagan trees continued. It became a revered tradition that was passed from generation to generation, and over time when waves of Germanic Christians came across the ocean in search of a new life in a new land, it came too. Thus, the celebration of Christmas with trees spread to the new world, where many were happy to see this beautiful custom and adopt it as their own.

So it is, that every year millions of Americans go forth into forests, tree farms, and home improvement stores in search of a large green tree with which to honor the birth of Christ, and perhaps implore the sun to come back.

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