In the Northern Hemisphere, between 20 and 23 December, the winter solstice occurs. Daylight hours are shorter and night hours are longer. In many cultures these days are seen as a symbol of rebirth and festivals are celebrated in honor of fertility deities or gods. Evergreen trees play a special role as they were seen as a sacred species as they live while other plants die during winter season.
In ancient Rome we find the Saturnalia festival, dedicated to the deity of agriculture. It takes place between the 17th and 23rd of December, and ends on the 25th. The 25th is known as the day of Sol Invictus (the “Unconquered Sun”). During those days slaves were freed or even swapped roles with their masters, and they frequently exchanged gifts. Some centuries later, the birth of Jesus Christ would take place on the same date.
The first decorated tree featured candles and apples
Tradition says Martin Luther was the first to use a decorated Christmas tree. He was taking a stroll at night when he realized the beauty of the starry night and the snow shining on the branches of a fir tree. When he returned home he chopped down a fir tree, put it indoors and decorated it with candles as a way to show his family what he had seen.
The first Christmas trees were used in Germany in the seventeenth century. These firs trees, or Tannenbaum were usually placed indoors adorned with apples and candles. The apples symbolized the fruit of the tree of Paradise and the Light (birth) of Jesus Christ. This is the origin of today’s balls and Christmas lights! Over the years this tradition expanded overseas to the rest of the world, and now most cities light a big Christmas tree to represent the beginning of the Christmas Holidays.
And one more curiosity about nowadays Christmas decorations- did you know that branches of evergreen trees were used to make wreaths decorated with a candle in the centre to represent the Sun?
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