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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.

By April Holloway



I think it makes total sense about pagan traditions everywhere in the world attaching significance to the connection of the tree of life to the evergreen tree. No matter why or why not all of the religons choose to focus on a tree bearing fruit. It does not really matter who is right and who is wrong the important thing to consider is why it is important.. I believe that orchards and horticulture and being able to grow that fruit in a place that is in one location and fully under your control would have given early peoples all over the world the ability to focus on innovations that made more advanced society possible. Abundance of food i one stable location helped give rise to irrigation that could supply plants, people, and, animals. The ability to grow crops and fruit would have made food plentiful and would have led to specializations in occupations that we see in the bronze age. But because weather and seasons have so much detirmination in agriculture. People would have had to develop festivals to mark the seasons. This is to ensure that people planted at the correct time. This led to writing and the calender adn even mathmatics and the advanced archetecture. 

Troy Mobley

And don't forget about Slavic/ Polish Podlazniczka
Older than German Christmas tree, sorry no English version

WOW.....Really??? Once a tradition that is associated (with the lack of a better term) Pagans??? Really??? No kidding. You can't step on a frog while passing gas and it has something to do with Pagan Tradition. They worship anything and everything at one time.

It is older than that, back to the use of the Cedars of Lebanon to build temples like Baalbek.

I come from Eastern Orthodox Christian culture, Serbia, to be more precise and here evergreen trees are connected only to celebration of New Year and pine tree is considered as holly. In the Night before Christmas housefather in gloves brings a branch of pine tree to the house telling "Christ is born!" and the rest of the family greets him with "Indeed he is born."

I don't know why precisely pine trees are considered holly, perhaps that has something to do with Slavic and Germanic pagan tradition, maybe not. Of course, we celebrate Christmas on January the 7th, since that day is December the 24th in Julian calendar.

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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