Sunday, December 6, 2009
Custom of the Christmas tree
When we think of Christmas, it's not visions of sugar plums that dance in our heads. It is the vision of the tree decorated that sits in our family rooms, our Living rooms, or virtually any room in the house. The Evergreen is synonymous with the holiday season.
Our Pagan ancestors spruced ( sorry about the pun) their homes with the sweet smelling boughs to remind them through those long dark winter nights that spring would once again return to the land. Christianity , through Martin Luther brought the trees into the homes reminding their families that " Jesus left the stars in heaven to come to earth" to teach us how to live. I personally like to think it's a measure of the two. It reminds us that there is a constant life that like Christ love, it is renewable.
Christmas trees often did not have a long life. They were brought in as part of the Christmas treat and were left for St. Nicholas and his elves to decorate. Their blank branches suddenly sprang to life overnight and were seen on Christmas morning decked in their splendor. A sight to behold. It was then burned for warmth. Remember the folk tale of the Little Fir Tree?
Victorians really made the tree special. Pictures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with their families before the tree made them a mainstay in the 1850 homes. Virginia's first tree came to Williamsburg in 1845. It was brought over by the Minnegerod family. Charles Minnegerod, a German professor at William and Mary brought the custom to the New World delighting the children of the George Tucker House.
Decorations were edible often made from gingerbread or marzipan, an almond sugar paste that can be shaped into figures, hard candies in gilded netting, cookies, and fruit. To offset these pleasures, paper fans, tin soldiers, windup toys were hung as well. Added to the mix were homemade toys, dolls, and mittens. Small handmade wax candles gave the tree light. Those beautiful hand blown glass ornaments were first made in Germany during the mid 1800's and shipped throughout Europe.
So, as you get ready to celebrate the beauty of the season, take time to bring the family in and enjoy the tree. Read to your children the story of The Little Fir Tree, The Polar Express, and the story found in the New Testament. Do it by the light of the tree with the carols playing softly in the background. You'll find the magic of Christmas has not been lost, "...it still resides in those who believe."