Tuesday, December 6, 2011

O Christmas Tree

During the month of Halloween, I talked quite a lot about the traditions of the holiday and their pagan roots. Unlike Halloween, Christmas is a Christian holiday and therefore can’t be directly traced back to pagan traditions. (Save the argument that it’s the Christian replacement for winter solstice festivities). However, similarly to Halloween, a lot of the modern-day traditions are a hodge-podge collection of other more archaic traditions and the Christmas tree seems to be one of those.
The Christmas tree as we know it- an evergreen decorated around Christmas time- was first recorded in 16th century Germany. The German tradition was adapted from the mystery plays done in churches at Christmas time, the most popular of which was the Paradise Play. This play represented the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin and subsequent banishment from paradise and the promise of the coming savior. The only prop for the play was a fir tree decorated with apples, representing the tree of knowledge from the garden of Eden. This play was conducted on December 24th which, in eastern orthodox religions, is the feast of Adam and Eve. The argument goes that the paradise trees went from churches to homes as people took on their own celebrations of the holiday.
Another tradition originating in the same place (Germany) at roughly the same time is the Christmas Pyramid. These are the contraptions with jolly-looking wood figurines featuring a spinning propeller on top moved by the heat of the candles below. Many people argue that the candles and decorations were added to the paradise tree to create the Christmas tree.
Traditionally, Christmas trees were erected on December 24th (the feast of Adam and Eve) and taken down on January 6th (the day after twelfth night). Thanks to consumerism they now seem to be erected most often on or directly after Thanksgiving and find their ways to street corners for trash pick-up by mid January.

Like most religious holiday traditions the Christmas tree experienced periods of feast and famine. The puritans- being steadfastly against fun or merriment of any kind- outlawed them. The rich aristocrats brought them back and used them to show off how many candles they could afford. Schools, local governments and townships have proudly displayed them and then chucked them when people called fowl over lack of separation of church and state.

The complete history, needless to say, is far more complex and fascinating because it involves cultural traditions from a whole host of other cultures who have their own spin on it, politics, religious controversy, economics and a bunch of other topics. But I’ll leave you to research far more qualified historians for that.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment! I will love it and hug it and pet it and call it George. Or, you know, just read and reply to it. But still- you rock!