Monday, December 3, 2018

Where did the Christmas tree come from?

The origins of the Christmas tree come from Germany when St Boniface was converted to Christianity. After he came upon a group of Pagans worshipping at an oak tree, he cut it down and when a fir tree sprung up from the roots this was taken as a sign.

By the 16th century fir trees were brought into the home and it is reputed Martin Luther was the first person to decorate the tree with candles. Queen Victoria spent long holidays with her German relatives and always enjoyed the decorated tree. Later Prince Albert decorated the Buckingham Palace Christmas tree for Victoria and the children. The Royal couple were so popular loyal subjects took to the custom and every home had one.

Initially they were decorated with flags of the Empire but when Woolworth's offered coloured lights, these were used. German settlers are thought to have taken the decorated trees to North America when they emigrated. In the early 1800s, when the first lit tree was erected outside a church, many parishioners protested because they felt the action was pagan. By the late 19th century Christmas trees had gained in popularity. The introduction of electricity meant it was much safer to illuminate the tree. Soon ever town community council had civic displays, all trying to compete with each other.

Originally (musical) horns and bells were used to decorate the trees, the purpose of which was to frighten away evil spirits. Later these ornaments took on a Christian message i.e. heralding the birth of Christ. Originally in some parts of Europe fairy like figures were used on the trees, but later these became angels. The origins of tinsel relate to the time when Europeans let their animals into the house. This was done because the birth of Christ took place in a stable.

The story goes women did not want spiders in their homes, but when a spider spoke to the baby Jesus, he was allowed to go to the Christmas tree on the night before Christmas. By morning his web had turned to silver with the rising sun. A spider's web on the Christmas tree is thought to be a sign of good luck.

On Christmas Day children from the poorer families got an orange, a new penny, a piece of shortbread and a toffee in their stockings. Oranges were a symbol of St. Nicholas's gold, and in hard times like the Depression and during War Rationing, families had no means to buy gifts. Instead, it was such a treat, even a luxury, to find things like a sweet orange or some walnuts in your stocking on Christmas. The orange segments represent the ability to share what you have with others.

Christmas dinner consisted of chicken broth followed by potatoes, roasted in the garden or street bonfire. The families sang carols (songs of joy) and clapped their hands to keep warm. The custom started in England and most carols were written in the nineteenth century. These scenes were depicted graphically in the works of Charles Dickens’s.

Christmas crackers were an attempt to make a log shaped novelty similar to the Yule log. At first sugar almonds and love messages were placed on the table then when the 'snap' was invented, the now familiar cracker was introduced. Instantly these became popular with families and were used in all manner of celebrations. Later these became exclusive to Christmas.

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