The Christmas Tree
By Jen Jandavs-Hedlin
Songs are sung about it, children expectantly seek presents under it, and for the weeks leading up to Christmas, it is the focal point of holiday décor.
Of all the rituals associated with Christmas, the tree has always had a place of special significance for me. Decorating it is an event filled with family, carols, and eggnog. That precedes four Sundays of advent celebrations, with dimmed lighting in front of a glowing tree, and reflections on the promise of a coming King.
It is commonly held that the concept of Christmas trees originated in Germany. However, according to numerous sources the first documented evidence of a decorated fir tree actually dates back to 1510 in the humble city of Riga, Latvia. The tree was adorned with roses (rumoured to be representative of the Virgin Mary) and dried fruit. In the town square, folks sang and danced around the tree with glee. There were no modern ornaments or strings of lights, but on the last night of celebrations the tree was lit on fire in a jubilant blaze.
If you think this sounds more like a pagan celebration than a Christian one, you’re probably not alone. Many cultural celebrations in Latvia heavily relied on the seasons, nature and botanical items. The idea of using a decorated tree at the crux of a party was likely part of their pre-Christian heritage. So, the Christmas tree may not quite be as Christian as we thought.
And it’s not only the tree that has pagan roots. I recently read an article in the Winnipeg Free Press regarding the cultural origins of some Ukrainian Christmas practices.
Consider also the date of our western Christmas celebrations, December 25th. Historical evidence suggests Jesus was likely born in spring, not winter, but that early Christians adopted the date of a solar festival to help spread the faith.
Could it be that we’re observing the wrong date, and using pagan traditions to honour our Saviour? And if we are, is that troubling?
I suppose it could be concerning, but one could just as easily contemplate how the traditions have been redeemed. With new meaning assigned and a focus on the wonder of the miraculous birth, the Christmas tree embodies its role as a symbol of the new life to come.
About this Contributor:
Jen Jandavs-Hedlin has worked in the publishing industry for over a decade and is passionate about helping authors to share their stories. She enjoys cooking, reading, writing, and organizing her home into boxes and containers. Jen lives in Winnipeg with her husband, and their canine companion, Montgomery.