Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Where the Christmas Tree came from

By the way, you do know where the Christmas Tree comes from? Many seem not to.

The Christmas Tree originated in Germany, in the "Middle Ages" (dumb name, says a lot about the mindset of those who coined it). It was part of the celebration of a particular day--but not Christmas.

A little known fact: every saint, Old or New Testament, has a day on the Church calendar, known officially as the "Roman Martyrology." That includes the patriarchs; including Adam and Eve. Guess what day is Adam & Eve's day? December 24.

And back in the day, communities would have plays on particular feast days, both to teach the faith and for fun. So in Germany, they would have a "mystery play" on December 24, to tell the story of Adam and Eve and what happened in Paradise, so long ago.

So let's go back in time; and the mayor of the town puts you in charge of getting the props needed for the play. "Vat do I need?" "Ein tree, dumbkopf! Schnell!" What sort of tree are you likely to find in late December--in Germany--that's not barren? Why, a fir tree of course.

"Hier ist ein tree!" "Gut, gut! Now, get zome fruiten for das tree!"

"Fruiten? In Dezember? Ach du lieber!"*

What fruit might you find in Germany in December? Well, nothing on trees, of course, but maybe in a basement? How about apples? In Latin--the Scriptures were in Latin then--the word for "bad" (as in "the tree of the knowledge of good and bad") is "malum"; and the word for apples, is "malum."

I'm guessing about why they used apples, but we do know that they did. Also, the decorated the tree with disks of bread--recalling the Eucharist; because of course there was another tree in the Garden, the Tree of Life, with it's own fruit; and those good old Germans understood that the Eucharist is the food that enables us to live forever.

Anyway, this play was performed for centuries in towns in Germany. At some point the plays got out of hand--hmm, a play about Adam and Eve, with forbidden fruit? How could anyone take that the wrong way? So the Church called a halt to the plays. But folks liked the "Paradise Trees" so they continued setting them up--at home.

Along the way, glass ornaments were added, as were cookies. People still put cookies on trees, as well as fruit--either real fruit (cranberries anyone) or ornaments shaped like fruit. I have some apple-shaped ornaments I bought years ago, before I even knew about the actual origins of the tree. Candles were added, then of course, in the 20th Century, lights.

Most people tell me they never knew this; I didn't, either, till a couple of years ago when I went searching information about the Christmas Tree. It's been awhile since I tracked all this down, so if you ask me for a source, the best I can offer from memory is the Encyclopedia Britannica.

(So, by the way, you can forget about all that guff about the tree being "pagan." The Christmas Tree is no more "pagan" than the cross.)

Anyway, when you enjoy looking at your Christmas Tree, think of the passage from Revelation, that describes the New Jerusalem, the City of God, with no sun or moon, because the Lamb is its light; and in the center, along the River of Life, is the Tree of Life, giving twelve kinds of fruit all twelve months of the year.

* Apologies to those who actually speak German.


Robert Hagedorn said...

Do a search: The First Scandal Adam and Eve.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Robert Hagedorn:

I did; and other than advertising your site, I'm not clear what your point is.

I am not prepared to read everything on your site; maybe you could favor us with making a more substantial comment here?