Discover the origin of the Christmas tree in our society

Conscious TV

September 28, 2020

The Christmas tree is an ornamental representation of the Christmas season that is part of the collective imagination of almost every culture. Although it is true that it has been television, cinema and popular culture that has spread it globally. Since ancient times, however, primitive peoples have hung evergreens and flowering plants in their huts, seeking a magical meaning in such an act.

The Greeks and Romans decorated their houses with ivy. The Celts and Scandinavians favoured mistletoe and many other evergreens such as holly, butcher's broom, laurel, pine and spruce branches as they were believed to have magical powers. Many of these plants have medicinal powers, so they are often associated with spiritual and animistic traditions.

In Celtic culture, the tree was considered a sacred element. Trees are known to have been adorned and venerated by the Druids of central Europe, whose beliefs revolved around the sacralisation of various elements and forces of nature. Near today's Christmas, and coinciding with the winter solstice, the birthday of Frey (god of the Sun and fertility) was celebrated by decorating an evergreen tree. The tree was called the Divine Idrasil (Tree of the Universe): at the top of the tree was the sky, Asgard (the abode of the gods) and Valhalla (Odin's palace), while at the deep roots was Helheim (the realm of the dead).

As Christianity spread throughout Europe, early Christians took the idea of the tree to celebrate the birth of Christ, changing its pagan meaning to a religious one. The origin of today's Christmas tree can be traced back to a rather popular legend, which usually dates the story to between 680 and 754.  Legend has it that at that time there was a German evangelist named St. Boniface. Understanding that the Celtic traditions could not be extirpated at their roots, he wanted to take them on and adapt them, endowing them with a Christian meaning. That is why he took an axe and cut down an oak tree, which represented Odin, and in its place he planted a pine, an evergreen tree, which came to represent God's eternal love. He decorated it with apples (symbolising original sin) and candles (symbolising the light of Jesus Christ).

To find out more about the origin of Christianity, don't miss our course Myths and truths about Jesus Christ.