It’s a Christmas tradition that many of us don’t even think about – putting up a Christmas tree each year. Many of us do it each year without question. But do you know why we decorate trees at Christmas? The tradition goes back many hundreds of years.
In pre-Christian times, pagans often included trees in celebrations. The Vikings believed evergreen trees were a promise that winter would end and the green of spring would return each year. Ancient Druids decorated oak trees to honor their gods, and the ancient Romans decorated trees to celebrate the winter solstice. There is also a legend from much later times that tells of a monk named Saint Boniface who came up a group of pagans getting ready to make a human sacrifice near an oak tree. According to the legend, the saint destroyed the tree with a single punch and a small fir tree grew in its place. Saint Boniface told the pagans it was the tree of life and symbolized the life of Christ.
Another theory suggests that Christmas trees have their origins with medieval plays that were performed on December 24 to re-enact the story of Adam and Eve. In these plays, a tree was decorated with apples and wafers to symbolize the forbidden fruit and the redemption, respectively.
Later, people began bringing trees into their homes. This practice was most popular in Germany, but by the early 19th century, the custom had become popular among Europe’s nobility. The tradition continued to spread across the continent and then across the ocean. Christmas trees were introduced to Canada in 1781 and later become popular in the United States as well.
Early Christmas trees were often decorated with apples, nuts, cookies, colored popcorn and candles. August Imgard, a German immigrant, is credited with being the first person to decorate a tree with candy canes. Later, electric tree lights and fancy ornaments made Christmas trees even more popular.
Now Christmas trees are everywhere during the holiday season, from government offices to shopping malls to private homes. They have become a part of our holiday tradition that is here to stay.