Christmas Traditions from the Forest

christmas_tree_1     Man’s reverence of trees goes back a long time. As we enjoy the coming holidays, reflect on how interwoven forest plants are with Christmas symbols and traditions.


The Christmas Tree: An evergreen tree, sparkling with ornaments and lights, means Christmas to almost everyone. There are several theories as to how this tradition came about. Some believe it may have come from the “Paradise Tree” of medieval Germany. It was a fir tree hung with red apples, and appeared in a popular Biblical play called Adam and Eve. By the 15th Century people were erecting Paradise Trees in their own homes on Dec. 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve.

Others believe that the Christmas tree began in the 16th Century with Martin Luther, the German Protestant leader of church reform. Legend has it that on Christmas Eve Martin Luther was inspired by the beauty of tall evergreens against a starry sky. He cut a fir tree, took it home, and placed candles on its branches. The lights, he said, stood for the stars in the heavens above Bethlehem.


Mistletoe: This evergreen plant has dark leaves and shiny white berries. It grows on (and is a parasite of) oak and other trees high up on their branches. Ancient Celtic priests of Europe considered the plant sacred and gave people sprigs of it to use as charms. Followers wore the mistletoe, or hung it above their doorways to ward off evil spirits. All who entered received a kiss of friendship.


Holly: Druids (ancient tree worshippers) believed that holly, with its glossy leaves and red berries, remained green so the world would remain beautiful when the rest of the forest had lost its color. They often wore sprigs of holly in their hair during celebrations. Early Christians decorated their homes and churches with branches from this tree at Christmas time. They called it “holy tree”. The pointed leaves resembled the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified, and the red berries symbolized the drops of blood he shed. Because the plant had come to stand for peace and joy, people often settled quarrels beneath a holly tree. A sprig of holly on the bedpost was said to bring happy dreams.


Christmas Wreath: In ancient Rome, people use decorative wreaths as a sign of victory and celebration. A wreath made from evergreens symbolized the strength of life overcoming the forces of winter.



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