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‘Oh, Christmas Tree’: An evergreen tradition

Features Editor

Dec. 22, 1999 11 PM

Bringing home the Christmas tree has long been an American tradition. Times and circumstances have changed the way the tree comes home.

In the early days of this country, father and son usually went deep into the woods and cut the cedar tree they deemed most beautiful and most suitable for their house. In today’s more urban society, Christmas trees are more often "picked" off a spruce or fir lot or from the local grocery store. But no matter where a Christmas tree in gotten, once inside the home and decorated, the significance of the tree can be felt.

The Christmas tree came to America from Germany in 1747 when members of the German Moravian settlement at Bethlehem, Penn. decorated for their children the first known Christmas tree in America.

However, the origin of the Christmas tree goes back to ancient primitive cultures who looked upon evergreen trees as being endowed with certain mystical powers that enable the needles to remain alive during the coldest time of year.

The green leaves, cone and berries at the cold, dreary time of year were signs of life and fertility and were God’s promise of spring.

The trees thick bark was believed by primitive cultures to be a winter hiding place for certain friendly spirits. Logically, then, bringing in the tree, the friendly spirits would follow.

The tradition of the Christmas tree has deep roots in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. A miracle play was presented by churches on Dec. 24 and, because few people had a Bible, the performances dramatized stories for the Scriptures.

At one time, this date appeared on the early church calendar as Adam and Eve day and the events were dramatized in the Garden of Eden. In one scene of the play, Adam carried a "Paradise Tree." At this time of year, the apple tree was bare so an evergreen tree was used and it was decorated with apples.

A couple of centuries later, the apple-decorated evergreen was no longer thought to be a tree of temptation but the green tree with apples came to be associated with Christmas.

This legend of the Christmas tree is, of course, not as well known or popular as Germany’s legend of the evergreen.

The Germans believed that Martin Luther, founder of the Lutheran church, was walking through the woods on a cold, clear night at Christmas time thinking about Jesus and his birth. He was awe struck by the stars as they twinkled through the branches of the trees.

The idea of taking a tree home and attaching candles to it occurred to him as a way to bring this magic of the Christmas night home to his children.

The family’s Christmas tree resembled the glittering stars and was a reminder of the Star of Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus the Savior of the world.

No matter which legend one believes or neither, the evergreen tree lights almost every home the eve of Christ’s birth and the lights will be a reminder of the light and hope He brought into the world.

With that, a Merry Christmas to all!

Editor’s note: Information on legends of the Christmas Tree from Jim Harrison’s American Christmas.