The Origin of the Christmas Tree

Taken from DOXA, A Quarterly Review Serving the Orthodox Church, Canones, New Mexico, US

– Found in an old church bulletin from Wisconsin, December 1987, this interesting material was adapted from the Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, by Francis X. Weiser.

Though some have claimed that the Christmas tree is of pagan origin (the ancient yule tree), in fact it appears to be of strictly Christian derivation. During the middle ages in Western Europe, the feast day of Adam and Eve was kept on Dec 24. A mystery play performed on that day told of their expulsion from Eden, and how Mary’s obedience reversed Eve’s disobedience – thereby leading to the theme of Christmas. The stage prop for the Garden of Eden scene was a Paradise tree: an evergreen (since no other green tree is available on December 24) hung with apples.  The Paradise tree was a popular symbol, and so when mystery play were suppressed  (chiefly at the time of the Protestant Reformation), people brought the Paradise tree into their homes: an evergreen decorated with apples, set up on December 24.  

From ancient times, Christians also had burned a Christmas light throughout the night on Christmas eve. In western Germany, many lights had come to be placed on shelves in the shape of a pyramid, decorated, with a star of Bethlehem on top. During the sixteenth century, some Germans began to combine the two Christmas eve symbols, and the result was the modern Christmas tree: an evergreen, decorated with balls (like apples) and lights, topped by a star. The Christmas tree first came to America with German immigrants in the 1700s.

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2 thoughts on “The Origin of the Christmas Tree

  1. “Tradition! Tradition!” as a singer shouts out in the play “Fiddler on the Roof.”
    The Christmas tree has been a Christian tradition for centuries, and will continue to be a Christian tradition ad infinitum!

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