The Pagan Origin of the Christmas Tree: A Clear Understanding for All

Christmas by its very nature is a Christian holiday but that doesn’t mean they have monopoly on decorating trees during the winter month of the solstice! Trees have and will continue to have a special meaning for Pagans and people alike, especially in the bleak, dark and cold winter time when we are all looking forward to the return of the sun!

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THE HISTORY OF THE PAGAN ORIGIN OF THE CHRISTMAS TREE

Tree worship by our ancestors was very common practice especially among the pagan communities in Europe and, managed to survive the Christianity crusade which attempted to convert all Pagans to Christianity.  While the Christmas trees are traditionally associated with Christianity, many people (including Witches) from many different cultures and backgrounds adopt the Christmas tree as part of their winter festivities and celebrations. So if this is something you like to do or want to start doing, go for it, there is no reason not to! You can decorated tree in a way that represents your spiritual path by choosing items that reflect this. You might not want to go all out with a massive fresh chopped fir tree so as an alternative, you can choose to decorate your fire place or hallways with lots of evergreen things (such as pine or palm branches, evergreen leaves, ivy, pine cones, holly etc.) and don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t have Pagan origins because as you will find out in this article, it surely does. 

INTERESTING NOTE: Although the Christmas Tree is now undoubtedly a symbol of the Christian faith their own prophet Jeremiah actually warned his followers not to cut down a tree, bring it inside, dress it with silver & gold because this practice was ACTUALLY inherently Pagan in nature (check out the reference here: Jeremiah 10:2-4).

A Typical Christmas Tree

THE WINTER SOLSTICE

The winter solstice happens on December 21 or December 22, occurring in the Northern hemisphere. The winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. Many Pagans celebrate the winter solstice because this marks the return of the sun god. The reason evergreens were and continue to be so popular during the winter months is because they remind us that the plants and crops will grow again, when the sun god is strong and summer returns. Traditionally, we see this time of year as the time when the sun god starts to regain his strength and is reborn again. The evergreen plants serve as our remainder that the sun god will shine his warm rays upon us once again and summer is to be expected and looked forward to.

THE CHRISTMAS TREE

The Christmas tree, an evergreen tree (typically a pine or a fir tree) is decorated with lights and a vast variety of ornaments. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away Witches (bad ones), evil spirits, ghosts and illness and for this reason, many of our ancient ancestors hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. Now a days you can probably go round to any number of Wiccan or Witches homes and see a tree of some sorts decorated in a very custom way appropriate to that particular individual or family. Traditionally, the Christmas tree was decorated with roses made of colored paper, apples, wafers, tinsel, popcorn, painted nuts and sweetmeats. Christmas trees were also lit with candles until this practice was replaced with the Christmas lights many of us know and love today.

SYMBOLISM:

The use of evergreen trees, wreaths and garlands are used to symbolize eternal life. This custom was used by many of the ancient cultures which include the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. In Scandinavian they have customs of decorating their homes and barns with evergreens at New Year, they do this to scare away the “Devil“.

MODERN CHRISTMAS TREE:

The modern Christmas tree is believed to have originated in western Germany and is associated with Saint Boniface, the earliest legend of the origin of a fir tree becoming a Christian symbol (dating back to 723 AD) as Saint Boniface was evangelizing Germany. In some Christian cults, Adam and Eve were considered saints and people celebrated them during Christmas Eve.

A popular medieval play about Adam and Eve was a “paradise tree” (aka Christmas tree ) which was a fir tree hung with apples, representing the Garden of Eden. This was the main prop of play. The German people would set up a ‘paradise’ tree in their homes on December 24 (their religious feast day of Adam and Eve) and hung wafers on the tree which were later replaced by various types of differently shaped cookies and candles (to symbolize their Christ as the light of the world) a “Christmas pyramid” which was a triangle made of wood, with shelves on which they put Christmas figurines and decorated with evergreens, candles, and a star. By the 16th century both the paradise tree and triangle had merged to become what we now commonly know as the “Christmas tree”. This concept was then introduced into England, North America, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Netherlands, China and Japan by the 19th century.

Brtitannica.com

Modern Christmas trees originated during the Renaissance in early modern Germany and are sometimes associated with Protestant Christian reformer Martin Luther .The custom of decorating an entire small tree was unknown in Britain until some two centuries ago when the German-born Queen Charlotte introduced a Christmas tree at a party she gave for children in 1800.

EGYPTIANS AND THE CHRISTMAS TREE

The Egyptian God Ra (who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown) was the god the Egyptians celebrated at the winter solstice. Egyptians didn’t have evergreen trees, but they did have palms. The palm tree leaves were their symbol of resurrection and rebirth. They often brought them into their homes during the time of the winter solstice. The Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.

God Ra

ROMANS AND THE CHRISTMAS TREE

Early Romans marked the winter solstice with a feast called Saturnalia. Saturnalia was the most important celebration in the life of an ancient Roman. It was a week-long lawless celebration held (starting on 17 and ending on 25 December). During this time, no one could be prosecuted. This feast was in honor of the God Saturn (god of agriculture). Saturnalia, the most popular holiday, and derived from older farming-related rituals of midwinter and the winter solstice, especially the practice of offering gifts or sacrifices to the gods during the winter sowing season.  During Saturnalia, people would decorated their homes with green shrub clippings, they would hang metal ornaments outside on trees. The ornaments chosen would represent a god (either Saturn or the family’s patron deity). The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon, farms and orchards would be green and fruitful so to mark this wonderful occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen bough which included vines, ivy, and shrub cuttings. During Saturnalia, many Romans practiced merrymaking and exchange of presents. The early days of Christianity, the birth of Jesus was set at the last day of Saturnalia by the first Christian Romans in power to approach pagans as a clever political tactic, to transformed Saturnalia (in time)from a party marathon into a reverent celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Saturnalia Statue

DRUIDS AND THE CHRISTMAS TREE

The Druids who are the priests of the ancient Celts also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. The term druid itself possibly derives from the Celtic word for oak. temples with evergreen boughs which signified everlasting life.

Stonehenge at the Winter Solstice

VIKINGS AND THE CHRISTMAS TREE:

The Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of Balder, their sun god. Balder, the god of light and peace. 

WITCHES AND THE CHRISTMAS TREE:

It is believed that some Witches choose to have a tree in their home over the course of the winter and solstice to . It’s the rebirth of the sun God. Also, having a tree in the home the wood spirits can be kept warm during the cold winter months with food treats hung on the branches for the spirits to. Bells which are also hung on the branches ring when an appreciative spirit is present. Most Witches choose to place a 5 pointed star/pentagram somewhere on the tree either as a hanging ornament or, on top of the tree to represent the 5 elements.

Is the Christmas Tree sames as a Yule Tree?

We all are all pretty familiar with the fact that Yule underwent a Christianised reformulation, which basically resulted the blending of the two customs (Christmas & Yule) with things such as the Yule logYule goatYule boarYule singing and even a Yule tree. This tree is pretty much the same as the Christmas tree minus the Jesus and Christianity symbolism. Instead you replace these with tree ornaments of your own which can be either handmade or bought (it’s up to you).

THE YULE TREE:

Georgia, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Germany all have their pre-Christian customs which all involve decorating a tree following their own traditional customs. Most took a small tree and decorated it with apples, nuts, dates, pretzels, and paper flowers. It was put up in the house for the benefit of the children, young adolescents and adults alike.

CONCLUSION:

No matter what your religious beliefs are, whether you are a Wiccan, Witch, neo-Pagan or a mix of everything, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy putting up and decorating an evergreen tree during the winter solstice. As you can see from this article, many different cultures use the evergreens and decorations as a celebration and symbolism of the warmer months that are soon to come as the days begin to get longer and longer. It’s also a wonderful way to connect with the energies of the season and make your home cozy and comfortable, cold outside, warm and decorative inside. It is a great time to get close with your loved ones as well as a time to self reflect on what you want to achieve in the new year – the possibilities are endless! Whatever you choose to do, I wish you lots of love, happiness and success. Blessed be. Also, if you are interested in learning about the origins of Christmas I have written an article, CLICK HERE to read!

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