‘Tis the season for Christmas trees, mistletoe, holly wreaths and garlands of ground (or princess) pine. It’s also the season for the alleged “War on Christmas”. Actually, it’s time for the winter solstice – when daylight is at its shortest of the year. The sun rises late and sets early and a lot of people feel depressed because the days are short and the nights long.
|Ground or Princess Pine|
All that greenery, the trees, holly, mistletoe and garlands are versions of traditions that date back thousands of years. The Norsemen of Scandinavia, the Druids of ancient England, Celts of the British Isles, Germanic tribes and the ancient Romans and Egyptians all celebrated the winter solstice, using evergreen plants or boughs during the celebrations. The evergreens represented eternal life and an assurance that plants would grow again in the spring.
The early Christian church discouraged the use of greenery as a holdover of the pagan traditions. But as the Christian church moved into Europe where celebrations of the solstice were common it was much more productive to join ‘em rather than fight ‘em and so the pre-Christian celebrations and traditions were slowly woven into the newly arrived religion. But not all Christians adopted the solstice/Christmas celebrations – the Puritans in New England outlawed Christmas celebrations in 1645; they remained banned for many years.
The first widely documented use of a Christmas tree more or less as we know it apparently occurred in 1510 in Riga which is now the capital of Latvia,; although the custom was apparently fairly widespread in Germanic areas of northern Europe in the 1400s. Reportedly the first use of candles to light a Christmas tree was by Martin Luther ---- yes, that Martin Luther.
|Christmas Fern (evergreen)|
The Christmas tree apparently came to America with the Hessian troops who fought in the American Revolution and became more common as German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania. But the use of greenery was slow to become widespread in America; into the 1840s Christmas trees were still seen as pagan symbols.
When I was a boy we always had wild-cut trees, but today virtually all Christmas trees are plantation grown of a few favored species – balsam and Frasier firs, Douglas-fir, Scotch pine, white and blue spruce and white pine. Pennsylvania has long been considered the leading producer of plantation grown Christmas trees in the nation with thousands of acres in production.
Season’s Greetings Everyone !