The Christmas tree is a pretty iconic part of Christmas tradition nowadays… but just what exactly does a tree have to do with Christmas anyway?
Well… nothing, really. The Christmas tree comes to us from a purely pagan tradition, that centered around the Winter Solstice, or the shortest day of the year (which was on Dec. 21st this year, just in case you were wondering). As the days grew shorter, it was worried that the sun might disappear forever—but unlike most plant life, evergreen trees were unaffected by this, and therefore were believed to have magical powers of a sort. Evergreen boughs were brought into the home, and trees were decorated—but certainly not chopped down. They were decorated out in the open, with candles and metal and replicas of Bacchus—the god of wine and various other disorderly things.
Also, in ancient Europe, trees were believed to represent everlasting life, and were decorated to honor the god Woden, the key god in the Germanic traditions, and where we get “Wednesday” from.
So how did this become a Christian tradition? Well, one story is that St. Boniface of the late seventh/early eighth century cut down an oak tree (which of course is deciduous, or loses its leaves) and that an Evergreen sprung up from the center of it—symbolizing the end of Paganism and the beginning of Christianity. But really…. I think it simply has more to do with the strength of tradition. People’s beliefs changed and they adapted their already-established traditions to accommodate that by putting a star or angel on top of the tree—and now that Christmas sways more and more towards the commercial, a Christmas tree is a nice, non-religiously-affiliated symbol, if you think about it. Non-threatening, for sure.
But really, they’re just pretty to look at, aren’t they? 🙂