CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
12 Days of German Christmas: Day 9
Depending on your source, there are several origin stories for the traditional Christmas tree. No mater the story, the Christmas tradition tree started in Germany. If you stop and think for a moment, cutting down a tree, dragging it into your house, lighting and decorating it for a month or so, then disposing of it before it spontaneously combusts and burns your house down is a little odd. Who would think of doing that in the first place?
It seems like the idea of bringing evergreen branches into homes has been around much longer than Christianity has been in Europe. The branches were brought in to ward off dark times and perhaps remind people that the sun will return bringing plants back to life with its warmth.
One origin story places the first Christmas tree outside the headquarters of the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild for German merchants. The trees were lit not with pretty little lights, but by lighting the whole thing on fire! The tradition caught on as these merchants took their tradition with them. Sometimes they decorated the trees with nuts, paper decorations and pretzels.
Slowly, the trees were brought inside. Children liked to raid the tree for treats even before the tradition of placing the presents under the tree started. Martin Luther, the German reformer, is credited with lighting the Christmas trees when he wanted to recreate the stars shining through an evergreen on a nighttime walk.
As the Germans spread around the world, they took their tradition with them. German immigrants to Pennsylvania are credited with having the first American Christmas tree. Prince Albert, of German birth, married Queen Victoria and they set up a tree in their royal residence. In a foreshadowing of many a Christmas picture in front of the tree, a sketch of the Queen and her husband in front of the tree appeared in the London Post. The picture went “viral” and the popularity spread.
The song O Tannenbaum is a German folk song that was translated to O Christmas Tree, even though the tree in the song was a fir tree, not decorated for Christmas and not associated with the holiday.
The German Pyramiden Weihnachten also comes from the Christmas tree tradition. In areas where evergreen trees were scarce, the triangular frames replaced the tree and decorations were hung from those instead.