In YDH, we’re a bunch of curious folks, and we bet you are too! Let’s dive into the enchanting story of the Christmas Tree and uncover its magical evolution.
Tucked within the heart of winter festivities, the Christmas tree has become an enduring emblem, transcending time and weaving together a tapestry of traditions. This journey traces its evolution from ancient beliefs in eternal life to the fusion of regional customs, culminating in the cherished symbol of the festive season we know today.
Picture this: ancient doorways adorned with evergreen boughs, serving as a shield against the whims of winter. These weren’t just decorations; they were a vibrant symbol, promising the return of warmth and greenery with the sun’s revival. Back then, the solstice wasn’t just about short days; it was nature’s grand comeback party. As the sun regained its strength, people rejoiced, believing that the greenery symbolized the sun god’s resurgence and the imminent return of summer.
From the Egyptians decking their halls with palm rushes to the Romans celebrating Saturnalia with homes adorned in evergreen boughs, these traditions were steeped in the promise of life triumphing over death. Picture the Druids and Vikings, cloaked in greenery, honoring these plants as symbols of everlasting life. And oh, the Yule Log? It was the MVP of superstitions, offering promises of good luck and protection against lightning bolts! The Yule Log, a cornerstone of winter celebrations, was no ordinary log—it was a blazing spectacle! Families brought in a large log, often from the heart of the forest, to burn in their homes for the 12 days of Christmas. This log had its own set of superstitions: it had to catch fire the first time or else misfortune would follow, and keeping its charcoal under the beds ensured protection from lightning strikes. It was a grand tradition wrapped in folklore, evolving with customs like tossing a piece of the flaming log over the roof for fire protection throughout the year.
Fast forward to the 14th century, enter the “Miracle Plays” needing props resembling apple trees. These playful performances were a theatrical retelling of biblical stories, often staged in accordance with the early Christian Calendar of Saints. During the plays held on December 24th, which focused on Adam and Eve’s story in the Garden of Eden, there arose a challenge: how to represent apple trees in the dead of winter? The ingenious solution? Enter the evergreens! To mimic apple trees, evergreens were cut down and, in a whimsical twist, adorned with apples. These ‘Miracle Plays’ not only entertained but also brought these trees into the limelight, gradually evolving into the custom of Paradise trees—evergreens embellished with apples and wafers, eventually evolving into the Christmas tree tradition we adore today.
Baron von Riedesel’s fancy fir in Sorel and William Pryor’s decorated evergreen in Halifax marked the sprouting of the Christmas tree tradition in Canada. From the coasts to the prairies, celebrations varied—Newfoundlanders tossed Yule Log chunks for fire protection, French-Canadians waited until New Year’s for gifts, and Ontario mirrored Victorian England’s merry vibes.
Today, choosing the tree is almost as grand as dressing it up! Families visit magical snowy tree farmers to cut their own or rely on the kindness of others and choose a pre-cut tree. They debate on pine versus spruce or the noble, their discussions as fiery as a mug of hot cocoa, until they find “the one.”
From gilded fruits to sparkling baubles, the tree’s transformation hasn’t dulled its essence. With twinkling lights and a star or angel atop, it embodies everlasting life and the love shared among kin.
The Christmas tree story weaves a tale of continuity, blending ancient beliefs and cultural flavors into a cherished symbol that unites us all in the spirit of joy, renewal, and the sheer magic of the season.
Written by Susie Sparkle, The YDH Elf
Historical Resource © 2023 – CTFO Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario