Christmas tree – Concept, history and other Christmas decorations

We explain what the Christmas tree is, how it originated and what day it should be placed. In addition, we tell you what elements decorate it.

The Christmas tree is decorated with lights, ornaments and figures of different types.

What is the Christmas tree?

The Christmas tree or Christmas tree is one of the most typical and widespread decorative elements of Christmas. It consists of a tree (ideally a pine, fir or other evergreen species) decorated with lights, ornaments and figures of various kinds, although in many cases they are made of plastic or other synthetic materials.

Along with the manger or nativity scene, and the figure of Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, the Christmas tree is one of the central icons of this festivity in the West. The usual thing is that there is one in every home and in every work environment, as a symbol of the arrival of the holidays. In addition, Christmas gifts are usually placed at its feet and family gatherings or celebrations are usually held around it.

The exact meaning of the Christmas tree can be vague or vary depending on local tradition, although it is directly connected to the winter imagery of the northern hemisphere. This suggests that its origins are in the north of the European continent, and in the sacred relationship that the different pagan peoples had with the trees.

In general terms, the Christmas tree symbolizes hope and life facing the end of the annual cycle (since it is an evergreen tree, that is, it does not lose its leaves with the cold), which in the Christian world coincides with the birth of the messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. There are, however, those who affirm that its decoration refers to the apples of the tree in the Garden of Eden, reminding Christians of the biblical myth about temptation and the origin of sin, or that its brightness refers to the star of Bethlehem, located in sometimes high up in the tree.

See also: Christmas

Origin and history of the Christmas tree

The Christmas tree spread in the 19th century in Europe and in the rest of the world in the 20th century.

The exact origin of the Christmas tree is uncertain, although many of its cultural roots point to ancient pagan traditions, linked to mythology or founding stories. Many of these traditions were absorbed by Christianity during the evangelization of Europe, and resignified to serve a new imaginary.

For example, in Norse mythology we speak of Yggdrasil, the tree of the universe or of the world, in whose crown the gods resided (asgard) and whose roots entered the world of the dead (helheim). Said tree was represented by an evergreen tree during the end of winter, to symbolize the birth of the Sun god, Frey, and with him the resurgence of life on Earth. Once evangelized, these Norse peoples replaced their pagan god with Jesus Christ and continued to commemorate his birth in the same way.

There are legends that affirm that the first Christmas tree was felled by Saint Boniface (680-754), one of the evangelizers of present-day Germany, to destroy a Nordic symbol linked to Thor, and that in its place he planted a pine so that its greenery eternal remind the Germans of the immortal presence of Jesus Christ. But there are not a few legends about the origin of the Christmas tree, and it is difficult to verify its veracity.

In any case, the tradition of the Christmas tree began to be part of the Christian Christmas rites in very recent times. It is thought that the first to do so were the Germans, around the 17th century, and that the tradition was installed in Finland, Bohemia, Moravia, England and Spain throughout the 19th century. In the 20th century, this tradition spread throughout much of the world, hand in hand with commercial Christmas celebrations, inspired in particular by American culture.

What day is the Christmas tree put up?

Christmas tradition dictates that the Christmas tree should be put up (“assembled” or “assembled” in some countries) on December 8, the day of the Immaculate Conception. It was thus established by Pope Pius IX in 1854, and that same day the manger must be placed in the house, although the figurine of the baby Jesus must not be in it yet.

However, in many countries this date may vary; in some cases there is no consensus as to when to put the tree. In other cases, such as in certain Protestant countries, it is the first Sunday of Advent, a date that varies from year to year, and which must be the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

Christmas tree elements

The spheres hang from the branches of the tree, as if they were fruits.

The Christmas tree usually has a very leafy decoration, which involves elements such as the following:

  • Star. It is generally located at the top of the Christmas tree and refers in the Christian imagination to the star of Bethlehem, which guided the three wise men to the shed in which the messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, was born. It is usually large in size and may be accompanied by smaller replicas that are placed on the branches, like ordinary decorations.
  • Spheres. They are generally balls of bright and metallic colors, which hang from a thread and thus hang from the branches of the tree, as if they were fruits. These decorations can refer to the apple of the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, or consist of symbols of abundance, fertility and a fruitful spring.
  • ties. They have traditionally been interpreted as symbols of family unity and eternal love, which is why it is customary to include them among the Christmas tree decorations. The idea is that they represent the close union of affection.
  • Lights. They are its most common decoration and usually consist of one or more strings of small colored light bulbs, which can remain fixed or turn on and off in waves. In some cases they even bring with them small electronic Christmas music boxes.
  • Figurines. They are decorations with certain Christmas shapes: snowmen, reindeer, Santa Claus, sleighs, etc. His role is to complete the decoration by hanging from the branches of the tree.
  • Other decorations. Sometimes the Christmas tree can also include fake snow, garlands, glitter and other decorations that enhance its brightness and its striking appearance.

Other Christmas decorations

The Christmas pyramid is typical of the regions of Germany and the Czech Republic.

In addition to the Christmas tree, typical Christmas decorations are:

  • The manger. It is a miniature representation of the place where Jesus of Nazareth was born: a shed or animal cabin, stuffed with straw and in which not only were Mary and Joseph, parents of the child Jesus, but also a mule, an ox and sometimes other domestic animals (such as sheep or cows). All of this, together with the Three Wise Men and the angel of the annunciation, usually appear in the nativity scenes, which are decorated in different ways in the houses when the Christmas season arrives.
  • Christmas pyramid. Typical of the regions of Germany and the Czech Republic, among others, it is a kind of tower decorated with lights and ornaments, in which a small wooden carousel rotates, crowned by a propeller at the top that mobilizes the whole thanks to in the warmth of four candles burning below it.
  • Santa Claus. Also called Santa Claus, Old Easter or Saint Nicholas, it is a Christmas icon linked to the delivery of gifts (especially to children), created from the figure of Saint Nicholas of Bari, a Christian bishop of Greek origin from the 4th century. It is common at Christmas that the image of him, dressed in red and with a long white beard, appears everywhere dragging a sack of gifts, or in charge of a sleigh pulled by reindeer.
  • Christmas boots. They are red and white boots that are usually hung on walls and doors in remembrance of the times when the Christmas Eve gift was left inside for children, as a surprise.

Follow up with: Easter

References

  • “Christmas tree” on Wikipedia.
  • “Christmas decoration” on Wikipedia.
  • “Christmas tree: where does the tradition come from and why is it assembled on December 8” in Clarín (Argentina).
  • “History of Christmas Trees” at History.com.
  • “Christmas Tree (holiday decoration)”in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.
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