Christmas tree has its roots in ancient customs
The Christmas tree is probably one of the most recognizable symbols of Christmas, seen on greeting cards, advertisements, cookies, wrapping paper, and in the homes of millions of people around the world. I have to admit, that until recently, I never thought to question why I go to the effort every year of decorating a tree, apart from the fact that it always brings a little bit of that ‘Christmas cheer’.
While the celebration of Christmas is typically associated with Christianity and the birth of Jesus (although many non-Christians also celebrate Christmas), the symbolism of an evergreen tree did not have a place in early Christianity. In fact, it was not mentioned in connection with Christmas at all until 1605 in Germany, and some suggest that the German reformer Martin Luther popularized the use of the Christmas tree. Luther, inspired by the beauty of the stars on Christmas Eve night, is said to have cut an evergreen and put lighted candles on it to represent the starry sky above the stable the night Jesus was born. By the early 1600s, trees decorated with candies, fruits, and paper roses were a part of the holiday decorations in German homes.
However, the symbolism of evergreen trees has much earlier origins that can be traced to the worship of the Sun God Mithras around 600 BC, as Mithras was often pictured in an evergreen tree or next to one.
Relief carving at Persepolis, ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire, depicting Mithra and an evergreen tree
Centuries later, the evergreen tree also became a symbol with special significance in Northern Europe. Plants and trees that remained green all-year-round had always had an important role for ancient peoples living in far northern regions, especially around the darkest day of the year – the winter solstice, which falls on 21 st December in the Northern hemisphere. People who worshipped the sun as a god began to celebrate it. They believed that the sun had grown sick and weak over the winter and needed to be revived. Ancient European cultures had the practice of hanging evergreen boughs in and around their homes.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, pine trees were used in Europe as part of the ‘miracle plays’ performed in front of cathedrals at Christmas time, which detailed the birth and fall of humanity, its salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Pine trees were decorated with apples to symbolize the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.
Pine trees were decorate with apples to symbolize the Tree of Life
Though such miracle plays were later banned by the church, this tradition spread widely and has been kept alive today in millions of homes over Christmas.