Roman Saturnalia

Saturnalia was one of the biggest festivals celebrated in ancient Rome between 17th and 25th of December. Saturnalia was celebrated to honour Saturn the god of agriculture. To honour the god and the fact that soon farms and fields would be green and fruitful they decorated their homes with green branches. During Saturnalia no one could be prosecuted for breaking the law, killing, raping or injuring others. A lot of people took advantage of this time of lawlessness but Saturnalia was also time to remember others by giving them small gifts.

In the early days of the Christian church, the birth of Jesus was set to be the last day of Saturnalia. This was an attempt created by the early Roman Christians to convert pagans into Christianity. There are many suggestions made when Jesus was really born (they vary from Easter to Summer Solstice) majority of the modern-day church history scholars and researchers agree that Jesus was not born near Winter Solstice and not even in December.

Winter Solstice

​Among (at least in) Germanic, Celtic and Slavic pagan cultures there was a habit to decorate homes with evergreen branches around winter solstice. Many times green branches were used as the symbol of the world-tree. World-tree is an early shamanic concept. Belief for that world was made of several different layers and those layers were held together by the world tree. A number of layers varied between 3 to 17 depending on the belief system. In northern hemisphere branches from evergreen trees also symbolized the rebirth of nature and everlasting life bringing hope for people about the coming spring.

Christmas Tree and Reformation

​The Catholic church did not approve pagan custom to bring tree branches inside. Protestant church approved the custom and tree branches were seen as a symbol of wealth. When in Catholic traditions native scenes were the official symbols of Christmas, Christmas tree became the official holiday symbol for the protestants. According to Christian mythology, an angel appeared to the shepherds and told about the birth of Jesus. This is why in Christian tradition there is either angel or a star in the top of the Christmas tree. Sometimes Christmas tree is told to symbolize the tree of paradise and Christmas balls represent forbidden fruits.

Real Tree Or Plastic Tree?

Before Christmas trees became the official symbol of Christmas it was a custom that was only available for the richest families. Some people might even have more than one tree. Many times the Christmas tree was an exotic decoration. Sometimes people even had competitions with their neighbours on who´s tree was the most handsome. Wealthy families might even have a Christmas tree in every room. Tiny trees were placed on shelf’s or hanged into the ceiling. The big tree was placed into the living room and it was also a status symbol. More handsome tree the wealthier owner. When custom spread into the homes of the Middle class their trees were usually small and placed into the middle of the table. When demand for the Christmas trees grew the size of the trees grew as well.

Christmas trees did not please all people. There were political and religious groups who banned Christmas trees and were convinced that they were an attempt to destroy people´s moralities. Trees were not always considered safe. Some of the arguments were accurate such as decorating trees with actual candles which might lead to fires. Electric lights became more popular in Christmas trees in the 19th century. World´s first Christmas tree with electric lights was on display in New York in 1882.



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