Oh Christmas Tree. . .

. . .Oh Christmas Tree, how lovely are your branches! I remember singing this carol not knowing what the heck I was singing. I was a kid, someone thrusted some paper into my hands and I mindlessly obeyed. My teens will question everything – why are we doing this? do I have to? What does it mean? They are so much more savvy than I ever was and I’m glad.

Like many holiday traditions, the tree of Christmas was a pagan ritual at first. Think about it. These evergreens truly do seem magical. They are green all year round and seem to be able to survive the coldest of winters. So, during the winter solstice they would cut off some branches, bring them in and decorate the house to remind them that winter does not last forever. If they can keep from eating each other, they would see Spring again.

The Germans put candles in their evergreens. Thanks Germans – great idea to put fire next to dry wood. Brilliant. Yeah, yeah, they look like twinkling stars or whatever but really? In the 1800s someone thought it would be a great idea to start that in the US. Ta daa – a Christmas tradition begins. If you ask any fervent US Christmas worshipper they will claim it began earlier than that but I could not find any evidence in my research of 30 seconds of Googling.

Many Americans would like to believe they invented everything and that everything they do is sacred. We are very entitled folk. However, many of our traditions are still very young. I think people forget we are barely over 200 years old. Compare us to the Republic of San Marino, one of the world’s smallest countries. This teeny- tiny country in Italy was founded on September 3rd in the year 301 BCE! Now THAT is old.

Remember studying about the stodgy early American Puritans? They were not fun at parties. To them, Christmas was sacred. They worked really hard to take the fun or “pagan mockery” out of Christmas. They even penalized frivolity -you know the very definition of fun. They preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.” ALL the stuff Americans do now were once considered sinful!

Did you know there was even a law in 1659 making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense? If you hung up decorations, you were FINED! It was not until the 19th century, when the party people of German and Irish descent uprooted the Puritan legacy. Party on dudes!

An illustration from a December 1848 edition of the Illustrated London News shows Queen Victoria and her family surrounding a Christmas tree.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

We can thank Queen Victoria for the tradition of everyone doing a family photo around the tree. Sure, hers was an illustration but still. Next time your kids whine about having to wear matching pajamas or having to hug their smelly brother just tell them that if it was good enough for Queen Victoria in 1846 then it is good enough for them. She was a popular girl and we all know that we should copy popular girls.

Published by bridgey1967

Loyal. Funny. Sensitive. Loving.

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