History of the Christmas Tree

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So many versions of the history of the Christmas tree swirl around, handed down for years as legend mingled with facts. Wikipedia, a well known online encyclopedic resource, outlines the common tale of Saint Boniface. He was a monk in the first century in Germany who wished to stop the paganistic worship of an legendary oak by the villagers of Geismar. He supposedly chopped down this tree, which shocked the people and had them turn to Christianity.

The monk was supposed to have seen a fir tree growing out of the gnarled roots of the oak and pointed it out to the people as a sign that "Christ was to be the center of households."

Supposedly Martin Luther, a German priest responsible for Protestant reform, established the tradition of the Christmas tree as a counterpoint to the tradition of the Nativity scene common in Catholic households.

As charming as these tales may be, there may not be enough evidence to substantiate either story.

What's the "Real" Story?

I found an interesting article on a Lutheran church website in which the author has seemed to go into some depth researching the history of the Christmas Tree.

This thoughtful article goes to great lengths to substantiate their own research by documenting their own sources and crediting the actual sources used.

Although not quite as colorful as the usual stories, it seems the true root of the Christmas tree comes from a religious activity called the "Paradise Play" in which a fir tree hung with apples was used to depict the "forbidden fruit" in the Garden of Eden.

Eventually the Church forbade the plays in the 15th century, but the people had become accustomed to the "Paradise Tree". They thus began to put their own fir tree up on December 24th in celebration of the feast day of Adam and Eve.

Decorated with apples (to represent sin), and homemade wafers, (to represent life as in the Communion wafer), you can see how this eventually evolved into our common day customs.

Germany also had a custom of lighting a large candle (representing Christ as the light of the world) on Christmas Eve. This could also be the basis for lit candles, and eventually tree lights, that we decorate our trees with today.

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