Legends of the Christmas Tree

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The Christmas tree is a much loved symbol iinstantly calling up images of gifts and family jollity. There are many beautiful connections to ancient traditions. Egyptian and Roman customs, early Christian practices and Victorian nostalgia are all combined in our modern Christmas tree.

The Greek Fir is commonly used as a Christmas tree. Ancient Greeks called the tree “Pitys” and, together with the pine-tree, it was sacred to Pan. Legend tells us Pan was once in love with a nymph called Pity, as was the god of the North wind. Pity chose Pan and the wind god, insulted and humiliated, blew her over a gorge to her death. Pan found her lifeless body and turned her into his sacred Fir-tree. Ever since, whenever the North wind blows, you can Pity crying and her tears are the droplets of pitch that leak from the fir-cones every autumn.

Since ancient times, evergreen trees have been revered as a representation of sexual potency and fertility, and played an important role in Winter Celebrations. Perhaps the Christmas tree is a watered-down version of the Scandinavian Yggdrasil, the Great Tree of Life. In Northern Europe the evergreen was a reminder that the long dark nights of Winter would end and the green of Spring would return. For Saturnalia, Romans would decorate their trees with suns, candles and small pieces of metal and today we still carry trees into our homes and adorn them. How do you select a mediator?:-Mediation Hitchin

During the winter solstice, Egyptians carried green palms into their homes to symbolise the triumph of life over over death. Living trees in large tubs were brought into homes during the old German feast of Yule. Prince Albert, husband and Consort of Queen Victoria, carried on this German tradition by adorning a tree with candles, candies, fruits and gingerbread. Although generally adverse to anything German in origin, the English public held great affection for their Queen and soon adopted the custom for themselves.

Some say the Christmas Tree has evolved from Paradise Plays. From the eleventh century, these popular religious plays were performed outdoors and in churches. It told the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin, and their banishment from Paradise. The only prop on stage was the “Paradise tree,” a fir tree adorned with apples. From this tree, at the appropriate time in the play, Eve would take the fruit, eat it, and give it to Adam.

One legend tells of St. Boniface who encountered some German pagans about to sacrifice a child at the base of an Oak tree. He cut down the Oak to prevent the sacrifice and a Fir tree grew in its place. St Boniface told the pagans that this was the Tree of Life and represented the Christ.

Another delightful legend is told of the time the Holy family was pursued by the soldiers of Herod, when many plants offered to provide them with shelter. One such plant was the Pine tree. With Mary too weary to travel any longer, the family stopped at the edge of a forest to rest and a gnarled old Pine grown hollow with the years invited them to rest within its trunk. Then, it closed its branches down, keeping the family safe until the soldiers had passed by. As they left, the Christ Child blessed the Pine and the imprint of his tiny hand was left forever in the tree’s fruit…the Pine cone. If a cone is cut lengthwise, the hand may still be seen.

Martin Luther also features in the legends of the Christmas Tree. Late one night the founder of the Protestant religion was taking a stroll through the woods. The sky was clear and many stars were shining through the branches of the trees, giving the impression of twinkling lights. Luther was so captivated and inspired by the beautiful brilliance of the sight that he cut down a small evergreen and brought it home. He recreated the stars by placing candles upon the tree’s branches to imitate their radiance and presented it to his children.

Whatever legend pleases you, make sure to pass on the story when you gather around your own Christmas tree.

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