The Roots of the Christmas Tree: Discovering the Origins of 3 Common Christmas Decorations
There are several classic Christmas decorations we put up year after year without ever taking a step back and asking ourselves questions like, “Why am I putting a tree inside my home?” When you think about it, some Christmas decorating traditions are a little odd.Since Christmas traditions are such an integral part of mainstream culture, these absurdities are just a normal part of the holiday season. But how and why did these strange traditions begin? Perhaps it’s the origin of Christmas decorating traditions that have made them endure through the years. Learning the origins of your favorite Christmas decor trends could provide insight that gives your holiday decorating a little more purpose this year.
Every year, millions of Americans purchase fresh or artificial Christmas trees to display inside their homes with strings of lights, colorful balls and shiny strips of decorative material. Why? The tradition dates all the way back to 16th century Germany, which is when devout Christians decorated trees in their homes, or created wood pyramids to decorate with evergreens when trees were less abundant.
Martin Luther is often credited with popularizing the practice of putting lights on the tree after he saw stars twinkling amidst a forest of evergreens. In an attempt to recreate this beautiful scene, Luther erected a tree in his home and wired the branches with lit candles. Fortunately, trees today are much less of a safety hazard and can even contribute to a healthier planet with artificial alternatives.
Another common symbol of Christmas, wreaths appear on millions of front doors during the holiday season. But what do these circles of greenery mean, and how did the tradition of hanging wreaths get started? Back in ancient Rome, decorative wreaths were often hung on doors as a sign of victory after war. However, this practice began to develop a richer, more holiday-appropriate meaning in 16th century Germany, when Catholics and Protestants used circular wreaths to represent the everlasting life promised by Christ. This Christian tradition was derived from a secular tradition dating back to pre-Christian Germany. German citizens would commonly gather wreaths of evergreen during the winter and light fires to express their anticipation for the coming light of the spring seasons and warmer weather ahead.
They might look like colorful, exotic dolls, but these oddities you see everywhere during Christmas are actually just elaborate kitchen tools. So, what turned these functional knick knacks into decorations? The toy soldier nutcrackers used to decorate homes during the holidays are inspired by Tchaikovsky’s famous play The Nutcracker, which features an imaginative scene where a nutcracker comes to life on the stage. Since the ballet takes place on Christmas Eve, it’s become a symbol of the holiday season and is associated with the magical quality of Christmas, which Tchaikovsky captures perfectly in his piece.
The traditions that other cultures and religions have during holidays may seem strange to us, but it isn’t often that we take a critical look at our own traditions to see how strange they might be as well. Discovering the origins of these traditions actually tends to make them seem less strange and more meaningful. These three common decorative items might appear unorthodox at first glance, but digging deeper into the history of why we use these symbols will make them all the more rich and inspiring when you incorporate them in your home decor this year.