The Origins of the Christmas Tree

We had a particularly impressive Christmas tree at the chapel this year. In fact, it was one of two we had up. Although they both had built-in lights that flashed intensively, risking seizures and fits in the congregation, someone was able to calm them down into a non-flash mode. They look lovely, though a couple of people commented on the trees’ pagan origins.

Certainly, ancient Britons worshipped at oaks and brought in mistletoe and other ever-greens to their homes at this time of year. Some therefore consider this practise as the origin of the Christmas tree. Alternatively, it may have come from the medieval mystery plays performed on 24th December, which retold the Adam and Eve story, with the tree of paradise bearing apples on its branches. These fruits were replaced with baubles and was replicated in German homes thereafter. An even more attractive tradition relates them to Martin Luther who, while out walking before Christmas, beheld the stars through the branches of a fir tree and imagined that same view of Bethlehem. He is said to have brought a tree hon e so his children might see the same beauty, attaching candles to the branches. Prince Albert, a good Lutheran, popularised the Christmas tree in Britain. Although there’s no convincing evidence of Luther’s role, it is interesting to note that use of Christmas trees was resisted in much of Germany because of their perceived Lutheran origins.

As Christ entered the world, fully God and man, in readiness for the cross, so the Christmas tree is a reminder of that death by which the Christmas baby would die. Its trunk is not yet cut and planed into beams, but the material is there, a reminder of that Child’s great mission.