| Tuesday, December 19, 2006
| THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE
|GERMANY WAS THE HOME OF CHRISTMAS TREE.
Because of those Germanic roots, many people think that the customs of Christmas trees was introduced into America, in the 18th century, by German immigrants to Pennsylvania and, a little later, by the Hessian troops of George III. Many people think that Prince Albert, Queen Vicoria's consot, introduce the Christmas tree into England from his German homeland. In both cases, the story is not quite right.
The Christmas tree is the very emblem of Christmas today. Its roots run deep, to pagan times when evergreens were first used to decorate homes and places of worship in mid-winter. Soemthing rather like a Christmas tree first appeared in the medieval peiod. The miracle, or mystery, plays of the time taught the people about religion. One of the plays, about Adam and Eve, had as a prop a fir tree hung with apples symbolizing the Garden of Eden. The tree, being ever green,symbolizing immortality, and the apples represented Adams' fall.
The people of Europe were fascinated by these trees, and look to setting up their own version in their homes, Wafers were added to the hangings, and then cookies of various shapes. These were hardly Christmas trees; theyhad nothing to do with Christmas story and lacked lights, which true Christmas trees have. They were but a hint ot things to come.
Still later, a curious tripod device called a "pyramid" became popular. The pyramid, a forerunner of the Christmas tree, was a wooden structure, five or so feet hight. It held candles, local fruits and vegetables and other decorations, some of which were religious in nature. The pyramids came to be used side by side with Christmas trees, and still are in some places today.
A beloved legend has come down to us about the first lighted Christmas tree.
Martin Luther was out walking one cold Christmas Eve, under a crystal-clear sky brightened by thousands of stars. The frosty trees glistened. He returned home and set up a small evergreen, which he lighted with candles to impress on his children that Christ was the Light of the World, who had lighted the sky so gloriously that Christmas Eve.
That may have neen the first Christmas tree, the famed reformer never recorded. Wouldn't it be ironic if Luther, the famed reformer who denounced Christmas, in fact created the first Christmas tree?
The first detailed account of an actual Christmas tree reads: "At Christmas fir trees are set up in the rooms at Strasbourg and hung with roses cut from aper of many colors, apples, wafers, spanglegold, sugar, etc. It is customary to surround it with a square frame... and in front ..." The rest has been lost, so we donot know whether or not these trees were lighted with candles. It is generally accepted that Christmas trees began as a local custom in teh Alsatian capital of Strasbourg, perhaps as early as the beginning of the 17th century.
The custome was slow to spread, possible because it began as a Lutheran practice and was not readily accepted in Catholic areas of Germany. By the mid-18th century, it had become well established in certain parts of the country. In 1758, a regulation forbade the taking of small evergreens from the forest of Salzburg (taken for Christmas trees, surely). However, surprisingly, it was not until the 1830s that Christmas trees became a national custom in Germany! They were introduced into Munich, only in 1830, by the Queen of Bavaria.
When did the Christmas tree take root in the United States? It is highly likely that the occasional Christmas tree appeared in German settlers' homes in Pennsylvania in the 18th century, but it was no more a custom here than it was in Germany at the time.
Christmas tree finally came into its own in America through the written word. People leanred about -- and were entranced by -- Christmas trees by reading about them rather than actually seeing them. Since the upper middle class did more reading than the rank and file, the custom began with the elite, but soon trickled down. In The Battle for Christmas, Stephen Nissenbaum devotes much of a forty-page chapter to this subject.
The first Christmas tree in an American book appeared in The Stranger's Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present (1896) By the 1840s there were other pictures of Christmas trees, but one picture in particular finally created a passion for Christmas trees.
In England, as in the United States, some German immigrants probably imported their Christmas tree ritual in the early 1800s or perhaps earlier. We know that the royal family, with its German background, enjoyed its tree. Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, loved Christmas and lover her tree.
A few years after Charlottes' death, her great niece Princess Victoria was familiar with the royal Christmas tree, as she wrote in her teenage diary on December 24,1832.
The British people had little interest in Christmas trees, whcih they viewed as a Teutonic novelty. In 1840, when Victoria married Prince Albert, a German, they were not very enthusiastic about him either. But in due course, Victoria and Albert gave them a son, a new Prince of Wales, and the people got used to the family.
Then came the Big Year for the Christmas tree - 1848. A full page illustration of the royal family around their tree at Windsor Castle appeared in the London Illustrated News. This picture of family togetherness, tranquility, and happiness captured the imagination of the people. It was accompanied by a detailed description of the tree; about eight feet high a=with six tiers of branches, each with a dozen wax tapers ... the decorations, most of which were edible, with an angel at the top ... the arrangement of the presents, each with the recipients name attached ... when the tree was set up (Christmas Eve) and taken down (Twelfth Night), and son on.
Two years later, an identical illustration appeared in the United States, in Godey's Lady's Book. Victoria's coronet had been removed, along with Albert's mustache, sash, and royal insignia. Americans were captivated by what they took to be a typical "American" scene. Thus the passion for Christmas trees caught fire 150 years ago and burns unabated today.
(Source: Abstracted from the book:INVENTING CHRISTMAS How Our Holiday Came To Be by: Jock Elliott)
|posted by infraternam meam @ 9:31 PM