Just like tradition demands, every year, starting on the 8th of December one turns on the lights of the Christmas tree. One of the traditions that is the most heartfelt, connecting children and adults of Italy and the entire world during the Christmas celebrations is certainly that of the Christmas tree, the evergreen fir that before the 25th of December is decorated in so many homes around the world. But why does one even decorate the Christmas tree? Let’s discover together some of the legends that explain the origins of this tradition.
Origins and history of the Christmas tree
The story is passed along that the Christmas tree also has an ancestor in the Garden of Eden, and when Eve decided to pick the forbidden fruit, its leaves dried up so as to become spiny needles that no longer would flower until the birth of Baby Jesus.
In antique Egypt in the period of the celebrations in honour of the Sun God, there was the custom of decorating a pyramid. This tradition of decorating the pyramid reached other populations who decided to utilise it and adapt it to their own culture, using something that came close to the image of a pyramid, therefore, a fir tree. Decorating the Christmas tree with lights would thus represent, according to the origin of the Egyptian Christmas tree, the light of life similar to that used when celebrating the cult of the Sun God. The image of the tree as expression of renewal of life is typical of the Pagan traditions, later assimilated in Christian culture. It is precisely for its characteristic of being always green that the fir tree brings to mind life that renews itself even during the winter, when all the other plants are bare. For this reason there was the desire to bring the custom of the Christmas tree within the Christian tradition.
Another Nordic story instead narrates that in a village, on Christmas Eve a boy went into the woods in the search of an oak tree to use for the fire. The night descended and he no longer could find his way back home, so he decided to take refuge underneath the only tree that was still green, a fir tree. The next morning the tree was covered in snow that, with the light of the sun, created sparkling decorations. When the villagers found the boy, enchanted by such wonder, they decided to reproduce the spectacle in their homes. Aside from the legend, the fir tree actually was used in the Middle Ages in the squares of the Germanic countries. The “game of Adam and Eve” was in fact common, in which all the squares were decorated with an abundance of evergreen fir trees and other decorations, to recreate that same atmosphere of the earthly paradise.
Another legend in which the roots are even deeper in the Christian tradition is that of the Christmas Ornament. When Christ was born in Bethlehem, everyone went to the grotto to pay homage to the great birth. Among those present was a street artist who was very poor and, though having nothing to offer, still wanted to give a gift to the newborn baby. So, he decided to offer to baby Jesus his talent, exhibiting himself in a show of juggling that made the child laugh. For this reason there is the custom of decorating the tree with a pointed star, to bring to mind the hat of the poor juggler and to decorate it with round ornaments, the same that the young man used to make the baby laugh.
It is said that in this period one decorates the Christmas tree because long ago, a woodcutter, while he was on his way back home during a cold night, but one that was brightly lit by the moon, found a marvellous pine tree in which the branches were all covered in ice. Thanks to the effect of the moonlight, the ice that dangled from the branches reflected the light of the moon and the stars. Wishing to share that spectacle with his family, he decided to cut down a small pine tree and to decorate it with candles and white ribbons, as if they were stars. The idea of the decorated tree struck not only the woodcutter’s family, but also the other villagers, and thus, all of them decided to decorate the Christmas tree in their own homes.