Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree
Thy leaves are so unchanging
Not only green when summer's here
But also winters cold and dear
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree
Much pleasure do you bring me!
According to legend, late one evening Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, was walking home through the woods and noticed the beautiful stars shining through the trees. To share the beauty with his wife, he cut down a fir tree and took it home, where he placed small lighted candles on the branches, and pronounced that it would be a symbol of the beautiful Christmas sky.
Elsewhere in Germany around the same time period, people were said to have combined two customs: the Paradise tree (a fir tree decorated with apples) representing the Tree of Knowledge from the Garden of Eden, and the Christmas Light, a small pyramid-like frame decorated with glass balls, tinsel, and a candle on top to symbolize the birth of Christ as the Light of the World.
In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls in the winter - December 21 or 22 - and is called the winter solstice. Many people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick. The solstice was celebrated as a symbol of the sun god returning. Evergreen trees reminded everyone that all would grow again when the sun god was strong with the return of spring and summer.
Today, the Christmas tree is traditionally decorated in with lights, tinsel, and ornaments. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it today.
One of the first records of the Christmas tree in America was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania. While, the Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees earlier, it was not widespread in America until the late 1890s, as Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols barring acceptance by most Americans before that time.
Christmas Trees Around the World
As with the United States, when German settlers migrated to Canada in the 1700s, they brought with them many of the things associated with German Christmas—advent calendars, gingerbread houses, cookies—and Christmas trees.
In 1848, Queen Victoria's German husband, Prince Albert, put up a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, commencing the Christmas tree tradition throughout England, the United States, and Canada. The Norway spruce is the traditional species used to decorate homes in Britain.
Christmas trees are decorated with colored lights, tinsel, and baubles. Some people favor the angel on top of the tree, others the star. The house is decorated with garlands, candles, holly, and ivy. Wreaths and mistletoe are hung on the door.
Most people buy Christmas trees well before Christmas Eve, but it's not common to take the tree inside and decorate it until just a few days before. Evergreen trees are decorated with stars, sunbursts, and snowflakes made from straw. Other decorations include colorful wooden animals and straw centerpieces.
The Christmas tree was not introduced into Norway from Germany until the latter half of the 19th century. When Christmas Eve arrives, there is the decorating of the tree, usually done by the parents behind the closed doors of the living room, while the children wait with excitement outside. A Norwegian ritual known as "circling the Christmas tree" follows, where everyone joins hands to form a ring around the tree and then walk around it singing carols. Afterwards, gifts are distributed.
Handmade artificial pine trees in an array of colors and sizes are used. Star lanterns, or parol, made from bamboo sticks, covered with brightly colored rice paper or cellophane, usually feature a tassel on each point, appear virtually everywhere in December - usually one in every window, each representing the Star of Bethlehem.
Christmas is holiday devoted to the love for their children. Christmas trees are decorated with small toys, dolls, paper ornaments, gold paper fans and lanterns, and wind chimes. Miniature candles are put among the tree branches. One of the most popular ornaments is the origami swan. Japanese children exchange folded paper "birds of peace" with people all over the world as a pledge that war must not happen again.
Fun Facts about Christmas Trees
- Christmas trees generally take 6-8 years to mature.
- More than 1,000,000 acres of land are planted with Christmas trees. On average, over 2,000 Christmas trees are planted per acre.
- 34 to 36 million Christmas trees are produced each year and 95 percent are shipped or sold directly from Christmas tree farms.
- The top trees are Scotch Pine, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir, and White Pine.
- In 1912, the first community Christmas tree in the United States was erected in New York City.
- The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree tradition began during the Great Depression era. The tallest tree displayed at Rockefeller Center came in 1948 and was a Norway Spruce that measured in at 100 feet tall and hailed from Killingworth, Connecticut.
- Today, the giant Rockefeller Center tree is laden with over 25,000 Christmas lights.
- In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony now held every year on the White House lawn.
- In 1979, the only the top ornament of the National Christmas Tree in Washington DC was lite, in honor of the American hostages in Iran.
Hear a beautiful rendition of the German classic by Nana Mouskouri - O Tannenbaum
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