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Christmas trees

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Mandy Esser
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« on: December 24, 2007, 10:07:31 pm »



A traditional Danish Christmas tree

A Christmas tree, Yule tree or Tannenbaum (German: fir tree) is one of the most popular traditions associated with the celebration of Christmas. It is normally an evergreen coniferous tree that is brought into a home or used in the open, and is decorated with Christmas lights and colorful ornaments during the days around Christmas. An angel or star is often placed at the top of the tree, representing the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity story.

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Mandy Esser
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« Reply #1 on: December 24, 2007, 10:08:20 pm »

With likely origins in European pre-Christian cultures, the Christmas tree has gained an extensive history and become a common sight during the winter season in various countries.

Patron trees (for example, the Irminsul, Thor's Oak and the figurative Yggdrasil) held special significance for the ancient Germanic tribes, appearing throughout historic accounts as sacred symbols and objects. According to Adam of Bremen, in Scandinavia the Germanic pagan kings sacrificed nine males (the number nine is a significant number in Norse mythology) of each species at the sacred groves every ninth year.[2]

Tradition credits Saint Boniface with the invention of the Christmas tree. The Oak of Thor at Geismar was chopped down by Boniface in a stage-managed confrontation with the old gods and local heathen tribes. A fir tree growing in the roots of the Oak was claimed by Boniface as a new symbol. "This humble tree's wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the centre of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your Comfort and Guide."[3][4]

The fir trees were at first held upside down from the ceiling. Martin Luther is credited with adding lights to the tree and placing it upright as we now normally see them.[5]

This is unlikely however, while references to decorated trees begin to appear sporadically in the 16th century (Riga Latvia in 1510, Straosburg church in 1539, and as a Straosburg tradition by 1605) there are no reports of LIGHTED trees until nearly a century after Martin Luther's death. Additionally, portended connections between Luther and the Christmas tree do not appear until later yet.[6]

Other notable traditions in relation to Christmas have also been derived from Germanic pagan practices, including the Yule log, Christmas ham, Yule Goat, stuffing stockings,[7] elements of Santa Claus and his nocturnal ride through the sky, and surviving elements of Pre-Christian Alpine traditions.

Throughout all the ages, evergreen plants were used for decoration in the winter, from laurel, mistle or conifer, and trees had a cultural importance like the maypole, the Saturnalia or the Gerichtslinde.

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« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2007, 10:12:29 pm »



Illustration of Yggdrasil from the Ockelbo Runestone, Sweden.
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Mandy Esser
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« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2007, 10:13:49 pm »



Taiwanese aboriginals, tutored by Christian missionaries, celebrate with trees (Cunninghamia lanceolata) outside their homes.
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Mandy Esser
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« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2007, 10:15:28 pm »



A Christmas tree from 1900.
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« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2007, 10:16:08 pm »

The modern custom of erecting a Christmas tree can be traced to 16th century Germany, though neither an inventor nor a single town can be identified as the sole origin for the tradition, which was a popular merging of older traditions mentioned above; in the Cathedral of Strasbourg in 1539, the church record mentions the **** of a Christmas tree. In that period, the guilds started erecting Christmas trees in front of their guildhalls: Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann (Marburg professor of European ethnology) found a Bremen guild chronicle of 1570 which reports how a small fir was decorated with apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers, and erected in the guild-house, for the benefit of the guild members' children, who collected the dainties on Christmas day.[8] Martin Luther is said to have decorated a small tree in house to symbolize the way the stars shined at night. Another early reference is from Basel, where the tailor apprentices carried around town a tree decorated with apples and cheese in 1597.

During the 17th century, the custom entered family homes. One Strasbourg priest, Johann Konrad Dannerstuart, complains about the custom as distracting from the Word of God.

By the early 18th century, the custom had become common in towns of the upper Rhineland, but it had not yet spread to rural areas. Wax candles are attested from the late 18th century. The Christmas tree remained confined to the upper Rhineland for a relatively long time. It was regarded as a Protestant custom by the Catholic majority along the lower Rhine and was spread there only by Prussian officials who were moved there in the wake of the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

In the early 19th century, the custom became popular among the nobility and spread to royal courts as far as Russia. Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg introduced the Christmas tree to Vienna in 1816, and the custom spread across Austria in the following years. In France, the first Christmas tree was introduced in 1840 by the duchesse d'Orléans.

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Mandy Esser
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« Reply #6 on: December 24, 2007, 10:17:37 pm »

In Britain, the Christmas tree was introduced in the time of the personal union with Hanover, Germany, by George III's Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz but the custom did not spread much beyond the royal family. Queen Victoria as a child was familiar with the custom. In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the delighted 13-year-old princess wrote, "After dinner...we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room...There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees...". After her marriage to her German cousin, Prince Albert, the custom became even more widespread. In 1847, Prince Albert wrote: "I must now seek in the children an echo of what Ernest [his brother] and I were in the old time, of what we felt and thought; and their delight in the Christmas-trees is not less than ours used to be". A woodcut of the royal family with their Christmas tree at Osborne House, initially published in the Illustrated London News of December 1848, was copied in the United States at Christmas 1850 (illustration, left). Such patriotic prints of the British royal family at Christmas celebrations helped popularise the Christmas tree in Britain and among the Anglophile American upper class.

Several cities in the United States with German connections lay claim to that country's first Christmas tree: Windsor Locks, Connecticut, claims that a Hessian soldier put up a Christmas tree in 1777 while imprisoned at the Noden-Reed House, while the "First Christmas Tree in America" is also claimed by Easton, Pennsylvania, where German settlers purportedly erected a Christmas tree in 1816. In his diary, Matthew Zahm of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, recorded the use of a Christmas tree in 1821 -- leading Lancaster to also lay claim to the first Christmas tree in America.[9] Other accounts credit Charles Follen, a German immigrant to Boston, for being the first to introduce to America the custom of decorating a Christmas tree.[10] August Imgard, a German immigrant living in Wooster, Ohio, is the first to popularise the practice of decorating a tree with candy canes. In 1847, Imgard cut a blue spruce tree from a woods outside town, had the Wooster village tinsmith construct a star, and placed the tree in his house, decorating it with paper ornaments and candy canes. The National Confectioners' Association [11] officially recognises Imgard as the first ever to put candy canes on a Christmas tree; the canes were all-white, with no red stripes. Imgard is buried in the Wooster Cemetery, and every year, a large pine tree above his grave is lit with Christmas lights.

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« Reply #7 on: December 24, 2007, 10:18:17 pm »

Many cities, towns, and department stores put up public Christmas trees outdoors, such as the Rich's Great Tree in Atlanta, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in New York City and the large Christmas tree at Victoria Square in Adelaide. During most of the 1970s and 1980s, the largest Christmas tree in the world was put up every year on the property of The National Enquirer in Lantana, Florida. This tradition grew into one of the most spectacular and celebrated events in the history of southern Florida, but was discontinued on the death of the paper's founder in the late 1980s.

In some cities Festival of Trees are organised around the decoration and display of multiple trees as charity events. In some cases the trees represent special commemorative gifts, such as in Trafalgar Square in London, where the City of Oslo, Norway presents a tree to the people of London as a token of appreciation for the British support of Norwegian resistance during the Second World War; in Boston, where the tree is a gift from the province of Nova Scotia, in thanks for rapid deployment of supplies and rescuers to the 1917 ammunition ship explosion that leveled the city of Halifax; and in Newcastle upon Tyne, where the 15m-tall main civic Christmas tree is an annual gift from the city of Bergen, Norway, in thanks for the part played by soldiers from Newcastle in liberating Bergen from Nazi occupation.[12]

The United States' National Christmas Tree is lit each year on the South Lawn of the White House. Today, the lighting of the National Christmas Tree is part of what has become a major holiday event at the White House. President Jimmy Carter lit only the crowning star atop the Tree in 1979 in honour of the Americans being held hostage in Iran; in 1980, the tree was fully lit for only 417 seconds, one second for each day the hostages had been in captivity.

The term Charlie Brown Christmas tree is used in the USA and Canada to describe any sad-looking, malformed little tree. Some tree buyers intentionally adopt such trees, feeling sympathetic to their plights. The term comes from the appearance of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree in the TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas.

In New Zealand, Pōhutukawa trees are described as "natural Christmas trees", as they bloom at Christmas time, and look like Christmas trees with their red flowers and green foliage.

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« Reply #8 on: December 24, 2007, 10:19:49 pm »



The Queen's Christmas tree at Osborne House. The engraving republished in Godey's Lady's Book, Philadelphia, December 1850
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« Reply #9 on: December 24, 2007, 10:25:38 pm »



Rockefeller Center tree
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« Reply #10 on: December 24, 2007, 10:26:51 pm »

Both setting up and taking down a Christmas tree are done on specific dates. In Europe, when the practice of setting up evergreen trees originated in pagan times, the practice was associated with the Winter Solstice, around December 21.[13] Tree decoration was later adopted into Christian practice after the Church set December 25th as the birth of Christ, thereby supplanting the pagan celebration of the solstice.

Traditionally, Christmas trees were not brought in and decorated until Christmas Eve (24 December), and then removed the day after twelfth night (6 January); to have a tree up before or after these dates was even considered bad luck. Modern commercialisation of Christmas has resulted in trees being put up much earlier; in shops often as early as late October (in the UK, Selfridge's Christmas department is up by early September, complete with Christmas trees). Some households in the U.S. do not put up the tree until the second week of December, and leave it up until the 6th of January (Epiphany). In Germany, traditionally the tree is put up on the 24th of December and taken down on the 7th of January, though many start one or two weeks earlier, and in Roman-Catholic areas the tree may be kept until late January. In Australia, the Christmas tree is usually put up on the 1st of December, which occurs about a week before the school summer holidays; except for South Australia, where most people put up their tree after the Adelaide Credit Union Christmas Pageant, which is in early November. Some traditions suggest that Christmas trees may be kept up until no later than the 2nd of February, the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Candlemas), when the Christmas season effectively closes.[14] Superstitions say it's a bad sign if Christmas greenery is not removed by Candlemas Eve.[15]

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Mandy Esser
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« Reply #11 on: December 24, 2007, 10:28:27 pm »



Christmas trees lit by candles, Denmark.
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Mandy Esser
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« Reply #12 on: December 24, 2007, 10:30:14 pm »



A sheared tree's fuller, more conical shape.
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Mandy Esser
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« Reply #13 on: December 24, 2007, 10:31:23 pm »



An unsheared Christmas tree from 1951, in a home in New York State.
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« Reply #14 on: December 24, 2007, 10:33:13 pm »



Shopping for Christmas trees, Seattle, Washington, 2007.
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