Early Settlers of Union
Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
Traditions Reflect Our Heritage--The Christmas Tree
Here in the mountains of North
Georgia our ancestors hail from
many countries. Since we become a part
of what we have known from previous generations, our Christmas
traditions are a
rich fabric of many customs practiced first in the Mother countries
our ancestors came and then established as rituals and observances
the years and in our present-day practices.
The Christmas tree is a beloved entity
of our Yuletide decorations. Just how
did we arrive at the tradition of having a tree in a prominent place in
home, adorned with decorations, glittering with lights, and underneath
gifts galore for members of the household and others?
We can thank, first, our German
ancestors for the Christmas tree custom.
Then we will have to give our English forbears credit, too, for
borrowed the tradition from the Germans and added to it.
These early immigrants to America
celebrated Christmas with a tree as in the old country.
But we find that some of the meanings
behind the Christmas tree are older, even, than our German and English
practices. The ancient Egyptians,
Chinese and Hebrews—long before the advent of Christmas—used the
evergreen as a
symbol of eternal life. Pagans in Europe, even in Germanic and Anglo-Saxon
practiced tree worship. They used the
branches of evergreen trees placed in strategic places in their barns
houses to ward off evil spirits. After
their conversion to Christianity, they used their pagan customs of
placement as part of their Christian observances.
first date attached to a Christmas tree is 1510 in Riga, Latvia,
which is now northern Germany.
Several men wearing black hats set up a large
evergreen tree in the square at Yule time, the winter solstice, the
in the year. Although it was to
commemorate the birth of the Lord Christ, it also was a tribute to
god, Mithras, whom they had worshipped before learning about Christ and
birth. They decorated the giant tree
with artificial flowers. After observing
Yule, or Christmas, they then set the tree on fire, and the burning
that from Yule Day, the days would gradually grow longer.
Martin Luther (1483-1546), the leader
of the Reformation, was out walking one night near Christmas. He saw some fir trees with the starlight
reflected through their branches. It was
a beautiful sight and reminded him of Christ and eternal life. He wanted to teach his children what he had
experienced at seeing the tree, but words failed him.
He went back to the trees, cut one and took
it into his house. He placed candles on
the branches. He taught lessons about Christ’s birth and His offer of
life through salvation, represented by the evergreen of the branches. Candles represented Christ as the Light of
the World, and taught that Christians should go forth as shining lights
dark world. Martin Luther married
Katharina von Bora, a former nun, on June 13, 1525. Six
children were born to them, four of whom lived to become adults. Perhaps the Christmas tree in Luther’s house
was in the mid to late 1530s. Luther
died in 1546 of a massive heart attack.
Another legend of the Christmas tree
predates the one in Riga,
and the Martin Luther family
tree. Winifred of England, who was later
called St. Boniface (c672-754), went as a missionary to the Druids of
in the eighth century. About the year
723, he came upon a group of Druids preparing to sacrifice their young
Asulf to the god Thor under an oak tree.
He stopped them. When he began to cut down the “bloody tree,” to
Druids a sacred oak, a strong wind came and blew down the tree. In its place a green fir tree sprang up. Because Boniface was not killed in the act of
intentionally cutting their sacred tree, the Druids listened to him and
embraced Christianity. Boniface taught
the Druids that the fir was a tree of peace and its green represented
life. From then forward the fir trees
had a special designation as the tree of Christ the Lord.
Victoria of England
and her husband, German Prince Albert, were pictured standing around
decorated Christmas tree in 1846 with their children.
With a popular queen embracing the custom of
having a Christmas tree, many Englishers followed suit and began the
practice of decorating a tree in their own homes.
the Pennsylvania German
settlements had community Christmas trees and celebrations as early as
1747. Decorations were of the “home
made” variety. White homemade wafers
were baked to represent the bread of the sacrament.
Berries, flowers and homemade garlands added
to the decorations. Before electric
lights, candles were placed in fireproof holders to prevent
conflagration. Seeing the tree as a
beautiful part of
Christmas, many settlers, regardless of the country of their origin,
Christmas trees in their homes and in churches as our nation expanded. Now, beautiful Chrismon trees with
decorations representative of biblical truths are often seen in
As you decorate and enjoy your tree
this Christmas, know that you join in a long tradition of customs that
bring meaning and joy to the season. And
I hope you will call it Christmas tree—not holiday tree.
Jones; published Dec. 3, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville,
Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.
She may be reached at e-mail email@example.com;
phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708
Updated December 6,
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