The Krampus Kalendar: T is for Christmas TREE

Friday 20 December 2019

It would be hard to imagine Christmas without the familiar conical form of the festive tree. From December onwards (if not before) they can be found everywhere, from homes and schools to department stores and pretty much anywhere people will spend any amount of time during the Christmas period, whether it be a hospital or an office block. But where does the tradition of putting up a tree indoors come from, and has it always been such an important part of the Christmas celebrations as we know them?

Well, in some ways it is one of the more recently-established Christmas traditions, with the decorated tree as we know it rising to popularity during Queen Victoria’s reign. And then, in other ways, the tradition is older than Christmas itself.

At its root, it is really just another example of an evergreen brought into the home during the cold dark days of winter by our pagan forebears, along with the Yule log, boughs of holly and mistletoe. But it was actually the Romans who got there first, as they did with so much that has become modern-day Christmas tradition. During the festival of Saturnalia, held in honour of Saturn, the god of agriculture, Ancient Romans decorated trees with small pieces of metal.

The first Christmas trees were decorated with apples, as a symbol of Man’s fall in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of tree of knowledge. As a result, they were called Paradise trees. In time other decorations were added, in the form of nuts and even red ribbons, or strips of paper. Ultimately the apples were replaced by Christmas baubles.

In the Middle Ages, the Paradise tree went up on the feast day dedicated to Adam and Eve, 24 December, and to this day, purists believe that you should wait until Christmas Eve to erect your own tree, and then take it down again on Twelfth Night.

Possibly the earliest depiction of a Christmas tree dates from 1521 and comes from Germany. The painting shows a procession of musicians accompanying a horse-riding holy man – who may be a bishop or even Saint Nicholas – parading through a town. One of the men in the procession is holding high a tree decorated with what look like apples.

A candle-lit fir was also erected in a London street in the fifteenth century, but such trees remained as outside decorations and there are no records from the time stating that they were ever taken into the home. Evergreens in other forms were used to decorate houses though, so it is quite possible that some homes also included a tree, rather than simply being adorned with bits of one.

However, according to some historians the first recorded mention of an actual Christmas tree appears in a diary from Strasbourg, dated 1605. This particular tree was decorated with paper roses, apples, sweets and gold foil – the first tinsel.

There's a rather different kind of Christmas tree in 'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas, and also appear in 'TWAS - The Roleplaying Game Before Christmas, which is into its final few days of funding on Kickstarter.


To find out more about the festive season and its many traditions, order your copy of the Chrismologist's Christmas Explained: Robins, Kings and Brussel Sprouts today!

The book is also available in the United States as Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Christmas.



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