Most people don’t realize that during Christmas they are surrounded by symbols that reach back into history. Take the Christmas tree, for example.
Centuries ago, Vikings and other peoples brought the evergreen into the house to bring life to the long winter. Today, we bring it in at the beginning of winter where it freshens the house before we are trapped inside until spring.
The tradition would be adapted by Christians, using the living tree to show the birth of Christ. Often topped with a star or angel and at times equated with the Tree of Life. Many traditions arose, from originally hanging it upside down, to Martin Luther supposedly coming up with lighting the true. But Christmas trees didn’t really catch on in America until the mid 1800s.
Some still don’t like the idea that it was once used by pagan cultures. However, the standard by which ex-pagan symbols are good and which are not is not always consistent. Many forms of crosses were used in various cultures (some like the Celtic cross were absorbed) and the Easter bunny had some mystical origins. What it once was doesn’t mean it is that now (the genetic fallacy for you logic buffs). Old signs and practices were occasionally appropriated, assuming they could be redefined in a way that could be used. In other words, some old tradition of launching people over a cliff wouldn’t fit in.
At this point the Christmas tree has become a fully Christmas tradition. Though many people who aren’t Christians still put up one as not to miss out on the gift-giving. Just want the perks of the religion and not the religion. Kind of like if Christians celebrated Hanukkah just to get more gifts.
So think about that as you gaze at your tree. There stands something that reaches back into centuries of traditions among thousands of people in many cultures. A piece of history, a message from the past, right in your living room.
[For more Christmas history, check out Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas.]