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A Short History of the Christmas Tree

20151213A.jpgThe Christmas tree is an old German tradition actually dating back well before the time of Christ. According to the beliefs of the northern European pagan tribes, winter, with its short days and its trees that lose their leaves, represented the death of nature and the end of the world. Fortunately, by using the right rituals and sacrifices, it was possible to turn the tide and bring the world back to life. So they celebrated Yule, or the Feast of renewal, when the days began to lengthen, that is to say around the end of our month of December.

The fir tree was at the center of their celebrations. Since it retains its needles even in a time of “death”, it represented immortality. So they decorated it with ribbons of birch bark, bits of meat and candles for the feast of Yule. Over time, the festival of Yule and that of the more recently introduced Christmas melded into one and the decorated Christmas tree thus became part of the Christian Christmas tradition, particularly in Germany and Alsace.

It is believed that German mercenaries first brought the tradition of the Christmas tree to North America. Then, under the influence of the United States, it spread around the world! Indeed, Christmas is now celebrated even in China where brilliantly lit artificial fir trees decorate streets, parks and storefronts. However the celebration there has no religious overtone and is instead seen as a kind of winter carnival.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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