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The concept of the Christmas Tree originated around 3000 B.C. in ancient Egypt with King Osiris and Queen Isis. After the untimely death of King Osiris, his wife, Isis, propagated the demonic doctrine of the survival of Osiris as a spirit. She claimed a full-grown evergreen tree sprang overnight from a dead stump, symbolizing the new life of the Osiris spirit from his death. On each anniversary of Osirisí birth, which was the date we now know as December 25th, Isis would leave gifts around this tree. During the Middle Ages, the Germans believed the evergreen trees were especially imbued with life since they remained green throughout all of winter. Greenery was prominent in winter celebrations in honour of the tree spirit or spirit of fertility.

The Romans trimmed the trees with trinkets and toys at that time of year. The Druids tied gilded apples to tree branches. For many, a tree decorated with orbs and fruit- like objects symbolized the tree of life in the garden of Eden. Some of the items with which the first Christmas trees were decorated: included paper roses, apples, Communion wafers, gold, foil, sweets, and dolls. Not all Christians approved of these trees, even in the beginning. The first mention of lights (candles) on a Christmas tree was in the seventeenth century. The Christmas tree made its royal debut in England when Prince Albert of Saxony, Queen Victoria's husband, set up a tree in Windsor Castle in 1841. After this it grew in popularity, although in 1850 Charles Dickens was still referring to it as a "new German toy." Bringing greenery into one's home, often at the time of the winter solstice, symbolized life in the midst of death in many cultures.

From the eleventh century, religious plays called "mystery plays" became quite popular throughout Europe. One of the most prevalent of these plays was the "Paradise play." The play depicted the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin, and their banishment from Paradise. The only prop on stage was the "Paradise tree," a fir tree adorned with apples. From this tree, at the appropriate time in the play, Eve would take the fruit, eat it, and give it to Adam. The Paradise tree symbolized both a tree of sin and a tree of life. For this reason, the people would decorate these trees with apples and homemade wafers. Later, candy and sweets were added.

Another custom to be found in the homes of Christians was a large candle called the "Christmas light," symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world, which was lit on Christmas Eve. In Germany, many smaller candles were set upon a wooden pyramid and lit. Besides the candles, other objects such as glass balls, tinsel, and the "star of Bethlehem" were placed on its top. The Paradise tree became our Christmas tree. Decorations that had been placed on the pyramids were transferred to the tree. Mark Carr in New York City set up the first retail Christmas tree stand in 1851. Franklin Pierce was the first president to introduce the Christmas tree to the White House in 1856. Nowadays 35 - 40 million live trees are purchased and decorated in the United States alone.


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This page was updated 2007-11-13.