As we get closer to Christmas I am reminded of how symbolic everything really is. So many people think that symbols are just things that writers and English teachers think up to make their lives more enjoyable. While there may be some truth to that, in reality, symbols are everywhere. Especially in the church and especially at Christmas time. I want to take a look at some of the symbols surrounding the Christmas season and shed some light on where the symbol came from and what it means.
What better place to start than the Christmas tree?
It seems the Christmas tree had its humble beginnings in Germany, which really interests me because I’ve done a lot of research on my family history in America as well as Germany. Our family line has close ties with the church, and so when I talk about when the tradition of the Christmas tree began, I am probably also looking at a piece of family history. Anyway, the tree began as part of “The Paradise Plays.” These plays were performed in churches and town squares during Advent and told the story of the human race from Adam and Even until Jesus in a manger. So the tree was center stage from the beginning, where apples were hung on it to represent the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The tree represented many things, such as the original tree in the Garden of Eden, the tree made into the cross of Jesus, the tree the Apostle John saw in Revelation.
The modern Christmas tree comes from Germany. Because of the tree in “The Paradise Plays,” German families set up a Paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it, which symbolized the bread eaten during communion. Since the Christmas holiday was right after that day, people put candles in the tree to represent that Jesus came as a light to the world. I don’t know how they kept the trees from burning down. Have you ever thrown an evergreen into a fire? It goes up immediately in a flash.
There is also the legend of St. Boniface that takes the Christmas tree back to the 7th century in Germany. During the 7th century, Boniface went to German to teach the word of God. According to the legend, he used the fir tree to describe the Holy Trinity because of its triangular shape. Once converted, the people began to see the fir tree as God’s Tree. This could also be why the trees were used in “The Paradise Plays.”
The Christmas trees first came to England with the Georgian Kings who came from Germany. I want to add on a personal note that we have a direct connection to Electress Sophia of Hanover through the church. Her son was King George I. The custom did not catch on because the British were not fond of the German Monarchy, so it wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that the tradition caught on. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were very popular and made the Christmas tree fashionable.
The Christmas trees in America were introduced by the Hessian soldiers. The Pennsylvanian German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. Most Christmas traditions in American followed the immigrants who settled the area. But once mass communication really got going in the 19th century, customs began to spread.
Now there are all types of trees from manufactured to real, but they all have a place in homes, whether the people are Christians or not. Stores may try to rename them Holiday Trees, but we know the difference and know the deep heritage they have in the Christian community.