As the 24th of December draws near, everyone happily gets to work on decorating their Christmas tree. Despite the popularity of this holiday tradition most people don´t really know where this seemingly odd practice comes from. So, follow LocalNomad as we explore pagan rituals and popular legends in order to unveil the mysteries behind the origin of the Christmas tree…
While the exact origin of the Christmas tree is still subject to a great deal of scrutiny, it is generally agreed that this holiday tradition first derived from pagan rituals. In ancient Celtic traditions, evergreens were regarded as sacred trees, notably because they could thrive and endure through even the harshest weather, all the while keeping their green leaves. During the winter solstice (21st or 22nd of December), the shortest day of the year, the Celts would celebrate the return of the sun by decorating a spruce tree with fruit, flowers and wheat. Later, when the church announced that December 25th would be celebrated in the name of Jesus´s birth, this pagan tradition was largely Christianized and became associated with all the other Christmas festivities.
The Legend of Saint Boniface
As the legend goes, Wynfrid de Wessex, more commonly known by the name Boniface de Mayence or Saint Boniface, tried to convince the druids in the 17th century that the oak was not a sacred tree. To do so, he chopped a large one down, and as it fell the tree destroyed everything in its path except for one little fir tree. Saint Boniface qualified this haphazard event as a miracle and declared, , “Let this be called the tree of the Christ Child”. He also used the triangular shape of the tree to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Germanic people to whom he had been preaching the word of God. Ever since then, Germany has celebrated the birth of baby Jesus by planting thousands of fir trees across the country.
The Legend of Martin Luther
According to popular belief, Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, was the first to light up his tree at the beginning of the 16th century. As the story goes, on Christmas Eve he was dazzled by the beauty of the snowy fir trees whose green boughs glistened in the moonlight. Inspired, he immediately returned home and attempted to reproduce the effect by decorating a tree with candles.
Did you know?
- Despite there being several differing theories it is generally said that the very first “modern” Christmas tree saw the light of day in the French region of Sélestat (Alsace) in 1521
- The first Christmas bauble was created in 1858, in Moselle France, following a particularly harsh winter which prevented the harvesting of the apples usually used to decorate the Christmas tree.
- It wasn´t until around the 17th and the 18th century that the first Christmas trees with fairy lights actually appeared. Before that time, it was customary to use nutshells with wicks, or soft candles attached to the branches.
- The first string of fairy lights dates back to 1882 and was developed by a friend of Thomas Edison.
Finally, it wasn´t until the 19th and 20th centuries that the Christmas tree became a tradition practiced worldwide. Today, Rio de Janeiro is home to the world´s largest floating Christmas Tree set up on the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. So if you would like to discover it for yourself, come check out some of our luxury apartments for rent at Localnomad Rio de Janeiro. For those who wish to know more about Christmas traditions in general, check out our article on Why People Kiss Under the Mistletoe at Christmas. Happy Holidays and enjoy!