Saturday, December 4, 2010

The story behind favorite Christmas traditions (part 1) Trimming the Tree

The historian in me has been begging for a series of posts related to Christmas traditions, and I have decided to begin one.
Why do we trim Christmas trees with ornaments and lights?
Well, in medieval Europe, plays were performed year-round, depicting biblical events. Christmas Eve was designated as 'Adam and Eve Day,' and the story of how Adam and Eve disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit was reenacted by players all over the Christian world. However, directors ran across a problem when staging this drama: there aren't many fruit-bearing trees in December!
Some enterprising stage designer had a stroke of brilliance, and tied apples to the boughs of an evergreen tree to serve as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The decorated trees were so successful that long after the plays had ceased to be performed, German families still hung 'Paradise Trees' with apples.
Soon, marzipan, gingerbread, and sugared nuts were added to the trees.
But what about the lights on the tree?
 It's said that Martin Luther was walking home thorough the forest, when he glimpsed silver stars through the branches overhead, and wanted to share the beauty of this sight with his family.
Inspired, he called his family together after setting burning candles on the boughs of a small evergreen.
A candle-lit tree. Notice the apples on the bottom half.

It wasn't long before other families started doing this as well.
When Queen Victoria was a child, she was introduced to the tradition by her German cousins. She brought the tradition to England, and soon it spread to America as well.
Queen Victoria and her family enjoying their Christmas Tree

We still trim our trees with round ornaments that mimic the shapes of fruit, lights, and gingerbread men. The Christmas tree is a beautiful thing, and one of the most beloved tokens of the season. It's here to stay.

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