Along with other trees, the Christmas Tree is known as a ‘Wishing Tree’ (See Mystical WWW Mystical Trees) due to its associations with religion and faith.
The Christmas Tree is known to have developed in its current form from Germany at the beginning of the nineteenth-century, but it is known to have been a part of the Roman saturnalia festival.
The ‘Ash Yggdrasil’ (See Mystical WWW Mystical Trees) according to Scandinavian tradition, is decorated with baubles to commemorate that the squirrel, the stage and the eagle lived in this tree. This tree is known as a ‘Cosmogonic Tree’, (See Mystical WWW Mystical Trees) and perhaps this is why the tradition of having a tree at Christmas is still common to remind us of these associations.
In Burmah, it is believed that a similar tree grew in the heaven of the ‘Nats’ according to mythology. Today this is commemorated by making one from bamboo or silver called the ‘Padaythabin’. It is hung with presents and traditionally carried in Buddhist processions. The Padaythabin is said to produce whatever is wanted, even coins and silver jewellery. All you have to do is wish. At the bottom of the tree more practical items are placed and distributed. After the festival and procession the tree is given to the Buddhist monastery.
Candles are really a Christian adornment of the Christmas Tree. They are associated with the Norse Yule sun festival when candles also symbolised lighting for the woodland spirits which inhabit trees. This time of year was seen in Pagan times as one to honour the woodland spirits, and dressing the tree with ribbons and brightly coloured objects showed respect for them. These spirits were believed to inhabit Christmas Trees too when all the other trees of the woodland had lost their leaves in the fall. A well-dressed tree is reputed to bring good fortune to the household.
Early Christianity referred to evergreen decorations, and particularly the holly or ‘holy-tree’ as being the ‘righteous branch’.
‘The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee; the fir-tree, the pine-tree, and the
box together to beautify the place of my sanctuary.’
Isiah ix, 13.
The evergreen tree is a symbol of everlasting life. Legend says that in the eighth-century, St. Boniface, on a mission to Germany, came across a group of Pagans worshipping an Oak tree and about to sacrifice the life of a small child. Heroically, St. Boniface leapt to the child’s rescue, grabbed the sacrificial axe and chopped down the Oak tree. The life of the child was saved, and bending down to pick up the child noticed a tiny Spruce tree growing between the roots of the Oak. As a symbol of new life, the tree soon became linked with Christmas, and the Christian defeat of paganism.
Prince Albert, of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, husband of Queen Victoria, is thought to have been responsible for introducing the idea of the Christmas tree to the British public in around 1840. Each year a large tree is placed in Trafalgar Square and an annual gathering occurs to celebrate the switching on of the lights.