Favorite Christmas Traditions: The First Christmas Tree

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 Origin of the Christmas Tree

A SCANDINAVIAN myth of great antiquity speaks of a “service tree”

…sprung from the blood-drenched soil where two lovers had been killed by violence. At certain nights in the Christmas season mysterious lights were seen flaming in its branches, that no wind could extinguish.

One tale describes Martin Luther as attempting to explain to his wife and children the beauty of a snow-covered forest under the glittering star sprinkled sky. Suddenly, an idea suggested itself. He went into the garden, cut off a little fir-tree, dragged it into the nursery, put some candles on its branches and lighted them.

“It has been explained,” says another authority,

“as being derived from the ancient Egyptian practice of decking houses at the time of the winter solstice with branches of the date palm –the symbol of life triumphant over death, and therefore of perennial life in the renewal of each bounteous year.” The Egyptians regarded the date palm as the emblem not only of immortality, but also of the starlit firmament.

Some of its traditions may have been strongly influenced by the fact that about this time the Jews celebrated their Feast of Hanukkah or Lights, known also as the Feast of Dedication, of which lighted candles are a feature. In Germany, the name for Christmas Eve is Weihnacht, the Night of Dedication, while in Greece at about this season the celebration is called the Feast of Lights.

As a regular institution, however, it can be traced back only to the sixteenth century. During the Middle Ages it suddenly appears in Strassburg; it maintained itself along the Rhine for two hundred years, when suddenly at the beginning of the nineteenth century the fashion spread all over Germany, and by fifty years later had conquered Christendom.

By W. S. Walsh, “Curiosities of Popular Customs” (condensed)

 

siw_grisa_angel_8158A Christmas Carol for Children

–by Martin Luther

GOOD news from heaven the angels bring,
Glad tidings to the earth they sing:
To us this day a child is given,
To crown us with the joy of heaven.

This is the Christ, our God and Lord,
Who in all need shall aid afford:
He will Himself our Savior be.
From sin and sorrow set us free.

The Book of Christmas
To us that blessedness He brings,
Which from the Father’s bounty springs:
That in the heavenly realm we may
With Him enjoy eternal day.

siw_grisa_angel_8159All hail, Thou noble Guest, this morn,
Whose love did not the sinner scorn!
In my distress Thou cam’st to me:
What thanks shall I return to Thee?

Were earth a thousand times as fair,
Beset with gold and jewels rare,
She yet were far too poor to be
A narrow cradle. Lord, for Thee.

Ah, dearest Jesus, Holy Child!
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.

Praise God upon His heavenly throne,
Who gave to us His only Son:
For this His hosts, on joyful wing,
A blessed New Year of mercy sing.