THE LEGEND OF CHRISTMAS TREE
This symbol of the season has so many legends associated with it, entire books have been written on the subject.
Some say the modern day Christmas tree has its origins in the Pagan Yule celebration. Pagan families would bring a live tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a place to keep warm during the cold winter months. Bells were hung in the branches so they could tell when a spirit was present. Food and treats were hung on the branches for the spirits to eat and a five-pointed star, the pentagram, was placed atop the tree.
Some say the Christmas tree story began in the 1300's in northern Europe, when performers strolled the streets bearing huge pine boughs laden with apples as walking advertisements for the miracle plays they staged on the church steps. The boughs represented the Garden of Eden in the play about Adam and Eve, traditionally performed on Dec. 24th. Gradually this "paradise" tree, as it was called, transmuted into the tree of life--the Christ Child's tree.
Another legend from the early days of Christianity in England tells the story of a Christian monk who was trying to spread Christianity amond the Druids. One day, surronded by a group of his converts, he struck down a huge oak tree, which, in the Druid religion, was an object of worship. As it fell to the ground, the oak tree split into four pieces and from its center sprung up a fir tree. The monk told the Druids, "This little tree shall be your Holy Tree tonight. It is a wood of peace, for your houses are built of fir. It's the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are evergreen. See how it points toward the heavens? Let this be called the tree of the Christ Child. Gather about it, not in the wilderness, but in your homes. There it will be surrounded with loving gifts and rites of kindness."
One of the first written references to a Christmas tree was in 1605 , where a visitor in Germany reported seeing a tree decorated with apples, gilded candies, paper roses and thin wafers. The rose was the symbol of Mary the Virgin; the wafer represented the host of the Holy Communion, and the gilded candies were for children. The writer called the tree "Christbaum".Two hundred years later, it was brought to England by German Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria and found its way to the United States through German immigrants settling in Pennsylvania who put up our first Christmas tree on December 20, 1821.
**As a little side-story connected with Christmas Trees, the addition of tinsel as decoration comes from a legend about a poor old woman who was unable to provide decorations for her children's Christmas tree. During the night, spiders lodged in the tree and covered it with their webs. The Christ Child, seeing this, realized that the woman would be sad to see her surprise spoiled. He turned the spider webs into silver, and the next morning the poor family was dazzled by the brilliant "tinsel" that shone on the tree
Tinsel was invented in Germany around 1610. At that time real silver was used, and machines were invented which pulled the silver out into the wafer thin strips. Though it was durable, it tarnished easily, so some attempt was made to make tinsel with lead and tin. This proved too heavy and breakable, so silver was actually used until the mid 20th century. Today, the tinsel we use is made of plastic.