The Christmas Tree Story, Part 3 (Advent Calendar Day 3)

The wonderful Kathryn Blake of “Headmistress Blake” fame (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) joins us again today for Part 3 in her Christmas Tree Story. Many of you know Kathryn as the fearless leader of Saturday Spankings, a wonderful opportunity to sample spanking authors’ work.

This is Kathryn’s introductory comment from Day 1:

1. Yes, I have read and understood all 4 information pages
2. Sadly, no, I wasn’t aware of Ana’s advent calendar last year (I’m a newbie), so I didn’t participate.
3. I heard about the advent calendar this year through Facebook.
4. I plan to participate every day, and yes I aim for perfect attendance, but not for the prizes..
5. I’m here for the fun!
6. I love Christmas, and I want to share the spirit of the holiday with others.
7. I’m Kathryn, and I’ve been visiting Governing Ana since February this year when I started Saturday Spankings. I write paranormal and spanking romances and plan to have at least two books out next year.
8. Hello George! I’m glad you came out of the woodwork to join us. Like Ana, I agree it’s refreshing to hear from individuals who practice alternate dynamics from the standard M/F. I’m pleased for you that your wife was so understanding of your desires and willing to meet them. Undoubtedly that’s why you’ve been married for 37 years. My hubby and I have been married nearly that long, but not quite, and I attribute the success of our marriage to understanding, cooperation and a similarly wicked sense of humor. He can always make me laugh.

She brings us an amazing history of Christmas trees, and I learned many new things. How’s that for kinky blog reading? 😀 I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Kathryn is offering one lucky random commenter a special prize: one of her five spanking books!

  • Mortal Illusions (Vampire Romance)
  • Deadly Enchantment (Shifter Romance)
  • Arrested by Love (Spanking Romance)
  • A Dom’s Dilemma (BDSM Romance)
  • Acting Lessons (Spanking/DD Romance)

For your comment today, you can pick one or more of the following questions:

  1. What new information about Christmas trees did you learn from Kathryn’s post? (I was shocked that fake trees and toilet brushes have a common geneaology!)
  2. When did or will you put up your Christmas tree this year, if you have one? (Christmas tree? Today. Christmas tree decked out as a Halloween tree? The week before Halloween. Don’t judge.)
  3. What is your favorite kind of Christmas tree? (Big, full, and with lots of pretty branches. So I’m not good at tree names.)

If you don’t celebrate Christmas or don’t have Christmas trees, that’s okay! You can choose the #1 question. 🙂

Christmas Tree Story, Part 1

Christmas Tree Story, Part 2

Christmas Tree Story, Part 4

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The History of the Christmas Tree (or how we decided to bring the outdoors inside)

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The Romans and Egyptians

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.”

The ancient Egyptians worshipped a god called Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown. At the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes to symbolize life’s triumph over death.  Daylight was lengthening, so Ra was recovering from the illness that had held him back during the longer winter nights.

Winter Solstice Celebration

Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture. The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon farms and orchards would be green and fruitful. To celebrate, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs and exchanged gifts. They gave coins for prosperity, pastries for happiness, and lamps to light one’s journey through life.

The Celts

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In Northern Europe, the wood priests of the ancient Celts, called Druids, also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs during mysterious winter solstice rituals as a symbol of everlasting life. The Druids used holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life, and place evergreen branches over doors to keep away evil spirits. Late in the Middle Ages, Germans and Scandinavians placed evergreen trees inside their homes or just outside their doors to show their hope in the forthcoming spring.

Our modern Christmas tree evolved from these early traditions.

The roots come from Germany

16th Century Church Tree-LRG

Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. Reportedly, Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, was the first to add lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.

Pyramid Christmas Tree

Customs of erecting decorated trees in wintertime can be traced to Christmas celebrations in Renaissance-era guilds in Northern Germany and Livonia. A Bremen guild chronicle of 1570 reports that a small tree decorated with “apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers” was erected in the guild-house for the benefit of the guild members’ children, who collected the dainties on Christmas Day.

One of the best records we have of this custom is from a visitor to Strasbourg in 1601. He records a tree decorated with “wafers and golden sugar-twists (Barleysugar) and paper flowers of all colours”. The early trees were biblically symbolic of the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden. The many food items were symbols of Plenty, the flowers, originally only red (for Knowledge) and White (for Innocence).

16th Century Christmas Tree-crop

The Dark Years – When Christmas Trees were banned

 

In America, during most of the 17th Century, Christmas customs were suppressed in the New England American Colonies by the Puritans. The Puritan community found no Scriptural justification for celebrating Christmas, and associated such celebrations with paganism and idolatry. The earliest years of the Plymouth Colony were troubled with non-Puritans attempting to make merry, and Governor William Bradford was forced to reprimand offenders.

Puritans heaped contempt on Christmas, calling it ‘Foolstide’ and suppressing any attempts to celebrate it for several reasons. First, no holy days except the Sabbath were sanctioned in Scripture. Second, the most egregious behaviors were exercised in its celebration, and third, December 25 was an early Christian hijacking of the Roman festival Saturnalia, and to celebrate a December Christmas was to defile oneself by paying homage to a pagan custom. The Puritans attitude was most clearly expressed in their calendar with approximately 300 working days compared to the 240 typical of cultures from Ancient Rome to modern America. Days of rest were restricted to the Sabbath, Election Day, Harvard commencement day, and periodic days of thanksgiving and humiliation. This attitude prevailed in New England for almost two centuries.

A Puritan Christmas

In England, when the Puritans came to power following the execution of King Charles I, Parliament enacted a law in 1647 abolishing the observance of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide. Not to be outdone, the Puritans of New England then passed a series of laws making any observance of Christmas illegal. A Massachusetts law of 1659 punished offenders with a five shilling fine (a hefty penance in those days).

Though the English repealed their law late in the 17th century, the Puritan view of Christmas and its celebration continued, despite the observance being made legal again in 1680. Even as late as 1851, a Cleveland minister nearly lost his job because he allowed a tree in his church.

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New England officials also frowned upon gift giving and reveling. Evergreen decoration, associated with pagan custom, was expressly forbidden in Puritan meeting houses and discouraged in the New England home. Merrymakers were prosecuted for disturbing the peace. The Puritan view was tenacious. As late as 1870, classes were scheduled in Boston public schools on Christmas Day and the punishments doled out to children who chose to stay home beneath their Christmas tree, included possible expulsion. Non-Puritans in New England deplored the loss of the holiday that was being enjoyed by the laboring classes in England.

A Gradual Restoration

After the Protestant Reformation occurred in Germany, trees similar to those displayed in guildhalls were seen in the houses of upper-class Protestant families as a counterpart to the Catholic Christmas cribs or manger scenes. This transition from the guildhall to the bourgeois family homes in the Protestant parts of Germany ultimately gave rise to the modern tradition as it developed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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The United States was most likely introduced to the Christmas tree tradition by Hessian troops during the American Revolution, or with German immigrants to Pennsylvania and Ohio.  But the custom didn’t become truly popular with the masses until the mid 19th century. In the early 19th century, the custom of decorating trees for Christmas was observed by the nobility and spread to royal courts as far as Russia.

The Fir Tree-HCA

In Austria – Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg introduced the Christmas tree to Vienna in 1816. In France, the first Christmas tree was introduced in 1840 by the duchesse d’Orléans. And in Denmark, a Danish newspaper claims that the first attested Christmas tree was lit in 1808 by countess Wilhemine of Holsteinborg. Reportedly, the aging countess also told the story of the first Danish Christmas tree to Hans Christian Andersen in 1865, after he published a fairy-tale called The Fir-Tree in 1844, recounting the fate of a fir-tree being used as a Christmas tree.

Victorian Angel Ornament Banner

By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. Europeans, who prefer small and compact, used table-top trees about four feet in height, while Americans liked their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling.

Victorian Christmas Tree-600

The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts. Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. At this point, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.

Addis Brush Christmas Trees2

In America, the Addis Brush Company created the first brush trees, using the same machinery that made their toilet brushes! Stronger than the feather tree, they could take heavier decorations. After 1918, because of licensing and export problems, Germany was not able to export its decorations easily, so the market was quickly taken up by Japan and America.

In the 1930s, there was a revival of Dickensian nostalgia, particularly in Britain. Christmas cards all sported Crinoline ladies with muffs and bonnets popular in the 1840’s. Christmas Trees became large, and real again, and were decorated with many bells, balls and tinsels, and with a beautiful golden haired angel at the top.

Tabletop German Goosefeather Tree

But wartime England put a crimp in the holiday. Britain forbade its citizens to cut down trees for decoration, and with so many bombing raids, many people preferred to keep their most precious heirloom Christmas tree decorations carefully stored away in metal boxes.  Instead, they decorated a small tabletop Goosefeather tree with homemade decorations, which could be taken down into the shelters for a little Christmas cheer, when the air-raid sirens sounded.

Large trees were still erected, however, in public places to help its citizens’ morale.

Postwar Britain saw a revival of the earlier customs. People needed the security of Christmas to help set them back on their feet. Trees were as large as people could afford. Though many poorer families still used the tabletop Goosefeather trees, America’s Addis Brush Trees were also imported into Britain, and these became immensely popular for a time. But real trees remained the favorite.

Silver Pine Tree with lights

The mid-1960s saw another change. A new world was on the horizon, and modernist ideas were everywhere. Silver aluminum trees were imported from America. The ‘Silver Pine’ tree, patented in the 1950’s, was designed to have a revolving light source under it, with colored gelatin ‘windows, which allowed the light to shine in different shades as it revolved under the tree. No decorations were needed for this tree.

Tree with garland and balls

With fewer people buying them, decorations became sparse. Glass balls and lametta (tinsel garlands) created an ‘elegant’ modern tree. Of course, many families carried on with tradition and continued to place their own well-loved decorations on their trees!

Pressed foil Dresden Ornaments

America made a return to Victorian nostalgia in the 1970’s, and it was a good decade later that Britain followed the fashion. Manufacturers quickly realized the potential and created more and more fantastic decorations. Some American companies specialized in antique replicas, actually finding the original makers in Europe to recreate wonderful glass ornaments, real silver tinsels and pressed foil ‘Dresdens’.

Today, with the ability to easily purchase items off the Internet from anywhere in the world, the Christmas Tree along with its lights and ornaments vary according to its owner’s tastes and values. So, you can even have visions of sugarplums dancing in your living room today, if you wish. The choices are as endless as your imagination.  Merry Christmas.

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The Christmas Tree Story

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Today Kathryn Blake and I present you with an early Advent Calendar treat!

Below is the first of a four-part series titled “The Christmas Tree Story.” Part two is on her blog here.

Parts three and four will be co-hosted on our blogs on December 3rd for the Advent Calendar.

I apologize that some of these photos are a bit small, but you can enlarge a little by clicking on them. WordPress is a bit temperamental about photos lately. 🙂

Spruce Pine or Fir Trees

A Christmas tree is a decorated evergreen conifer, usually a spruce, pine or fir, since those trees have been traditionally associated with the celebration of Christmas. Today, “realistic” looking artificial trees, have grown in popularity as well.  And to my eye, they are a great improvement over the pipe-cleaner aluminum trees of the 60s.

Artifical Tree Banner

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Real-looking Artifical Tree Banner

Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient people hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries, it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.

winter_solstice_pivato

In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year (the Winter Solstice) falls on December 21 or December 22. Many ancient people believed the sun was a god and winter came every year because the god had grown sick and weak. They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow when the sun god was returned to his full glory and summer returned.

popcorn garland

Originally, the holiday tree was decorated with edibles such as apples, nuts or dates, and later strings of edible popcorn were added.  In the 18th century, candles illuminated the tree, which with electrification evolved into strings of gaily-colored Christmas lights. Today, wide varieties of traditional ornaments exist, such as garland, tinsel, and even candy canes (plastic or real). An angel or star may be placed at the top of the tree, to represent the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity.

The custom of the Christmas tree developed in early modern Germany with predecessors that can be traced to the 16th and possibly the 15th century, when “devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.” The custom acquired popularity outside of Germany during the second half of the 19th century. The Christmas tree has also been referred to as a “Yule-tree”, especially in connection with its folkloristic origins.

Family decorations typically include a mix of family traditions and personal tastes; even a small unattractive ornament, if passed down from a parent or grandparent, may come to represent considerable emotional value, and be given a place of pride on the tree. Conversely, trees decorated by professional designers for department stores and other institutions usually have a “theme”; a set of predominant colors, multiple instances of each type of ornament, and larger decorations that may be more complicated to set up correctly.

Candle-lit tree

Because candles were used to illuminate trees until strings of electric bulbs became available, a mat (UK) or skirt (US) was often placed below the tree to protect the floor by catching the dripping candle wax, and collecting any fallen needles. Even with today’s dripless candles, electric lights and artificial trees, a skirt is often added as a decorative feature that also serves to hide the tree stand, which though unsightly is an important safety feature for natural trees that require a steady intake of water to keep their needles fresh. So, what began as ordinary cloth to catch wax droplets has become much more ornate, with some displaying intricate embroidery or appliqués, while others are fitted with their own lights to give the illusion of sparkling snow laying beneath the tree.

Christmas Tree with Model Train

Some families have a nativity scene, model train, or Christmas village placed on the mat or skirt beneath the tree.  As Christmas presents arrive, they are generally placed on the tree skirt as well.  These presents are in addition to the gifts Santa brings, of course.

 

For those of you who may be curious, the difference between a mat and skirt is simply that a mat is placed under the Christmas tree stand, while a skirt is placed over it.  The tree skirt has a hole in the middle for the tree’s trunk and a slot cut to the outside edge so that it can be placed around the tree (and beneath its branches) easily. When the tree being used is fresh, rather than manufactured, a plain mat of fabric or plastic is often placed under the stand and skirt to protect the floor (if wood) from scratches  and water spillages.

Feed the Woodland creatures banner

In addition to their indoor decorations, many people decorate their outdoor trees with food that birds and other wildlife might enjoy, such as garlands made from unsalted popcorn or cranberries, fruit halves, and seed-covered suet cakes.  Not to mention the creative light displays some households put up to compete with their neighbors.

outside light displays

But no matter what your reason is for decorating, ’tis the season to be jolly, and once your decorated Christmas tree is fully dressed in its lights and ornaments, it’s difficult not to sit back and admire your handiwork with a smile for a job well done.