As the year comes to a close, many of us begin to take on the seasonal task of holiday decorating. We check the boxes on our list of to-dos: get a Christmas tree, add front door decorations, ornaments and outdoor and indoor lights are the first to spring up among the holiday favorites. The process seems so ingrained in our collective mind that few people question it anymore. This week, we’re questioning our traditions—specifically, holiday decorations. Where do they come from and what are the histories behind them? Find out the origin stories of a few of our favorite holiday decorations in this week’s blog!
Ah, the Christmas tree. Probably the most well-known of our holiday symbols actually sprouted from a pagan ritual. Several theories exist as to how Christianity adopted the tradition, but one of the most common versions of the story is that of the Benedictine monk Boniface whose missionary work in Germany exposed him to the rituals of a group of native Germans. Supposedly, the group was gathered around an oak tree performing some sort of sacrifice to Thor when Boniface chopped down the tree to interrupt their worship of a god who, to Boniface at least, was a false idol. When he wasn’t struck down by lightning, the group was shocked, and Boniface took the opportunity to convert them to Christianity. He pointed to a tree just behind the felled oak, an evergreen, and told the people that it should be their new holy tree because its continually green leaves were symbolic of the eternal life of Christianity.
The use of the Christmas tree has evolved quite a bit over the years. Both Christmas and Christmas trees alike were often rejected for their pagan roots both before and into the early 1800s, but by the end of the century, many Christians had taken hold of the trend. They opted for shorter trees, around 4 feet tall, and decorations became increasingly more elaborate throughout the century. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the Christmas tree began to look as it does today—taller and more elaborately decorated than in previous decades.
Nothing is more welcoming during the holidays than a front door adorned with a big, beautiful wreath. The tradition of the Christmas wreath begins with the ancient Celts in Europe when Christmas and the celebration of the Winter Solstice were one in the same. Boughs of holly were common decorations for the Solstice celebration, and the tradition carried over into Christian practice as the pagan celebrations faded into history. The circular shape of the wreath is thought to come from Roman tradition. The Roman “corona” was worn atop the head during festivals that celebrates great warriors after a battle. Now, the circular wreath is a symbol which represents eternity and divinity for Christians who use them instead of a stylish holiday hat.
Another tradition with Germanic roots, tinsel started out as real, shredded silver in the 1600s. It would be hammered as thinly as possible before being cut into strips. Soon, people began to realize that silver blackened easily when used in close proximity to Christmas candles—the precursor to Christmas lights—and other materials such as lead and tin were used instead. Modern tinsel is typically a plastic-based material, making for a safer and more cost-effective product without sacrificing shimmer.
If you’ve got a different kind of Christmas construction project on your mind, call J-Tech today. From roof repair to window, door and gutter installation, we’re your local exterior experts. Come back next week as we outline the holiday history behind ornaments, nutcrackers and holiday lights!