Friday, December 13, 2013

Winter Solstice and the Origins of the “Christmas” tree

Winter Solstice and the “Christmas” tree 
Studies have concluded that it is clear that the modern Christmas tree originates in Renaissance and early modern Germany, there are a number of speculative theories as to its ultimate origin.

But they all have something in common - This was to recognize the winter solstice. The time of the year that had the shortest daylight hours, and longest night of the year. This occurs annually sometime between December 20 to 23; most often, it is December 21. As the solstice approached, they noticed that the days were gradually getting shorter; many feared that the sun would eventually disappear forever, and everyone would freeze in the dark. But, even though deciduous trees, bushes, and crops died or hibernated for the winter, the evergreen trees remained green. They seemed to have magical powers that enabled them to withstand the rigors of winter.

Not having evergreen trees, Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized the triumph of life over death or resurrection. The ancient Egyptians worshiped a god called Ra, the solstice was when Ra began to recover from the illness, and this is when they would decorate their homes with its branches
Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture, part of the ceremony was the raising of an evergreen bough.. The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon farms and orchards would be green and fruitful. They decorated their houses with greens, "trees with bits of metal and replicas of their god, Bacchus [a fertility god]. They also placed 12 candles on the tree in honor of their sun god" They gave coins for prosperity, pastries for happiness, and lamps to light one's journey through life. Their mid-winter festival of Saturnalia started on December 17 and often lasted until a few days after the Solstice.
In Northern Europe the Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts, also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs, holly and mistletoe as a symbol of everlasting life, and placed evergreen branches over doors to keep away evil spirits.

The fierce Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder. For the Norsemen, they symbolized the revival of the god Balder. The early Scandinavians were said to have paid homage to the fir tree

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.

Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans. It even 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

In Poland there was an old pagan custom of hanging a branch of fir, spruce or pine from the ceiling called Podłaźniczka associated with Koliada. Branches were decorated with apples, nuts, cookies, colored paper, stars made of straw, ribbons and colored wafers. People believed that the tree had magical powers linked with harvesting and success in the next year.

Also, in Northern Europe, the ancient Germanic people tied fruit and attached candles to evergreen tree branches, in honor of their god Woden. Trees were viewed as symbolizing eternal life. This is the deity after which Wednesday (Wodensday) was named. The trees joined holly, mistletoe, the wassail bowl and the Yule log as symbols of the season. All predated Christianity.
Written by Citrine Waters

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