oh Tannenbaum! – a short history of a big tree

Petra Lessoing
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***The most popular symbol for the holidays is the Christmas tree. Traditionally, most German families put up a Christmas tree in their homes. And customarily, most put it up the morning of Christmas Eve and keep it displayed until Three Kings Day, Jan. 6. Some people also decorate the trees in their yards, mainly with light bulbs.

Throughout the years, Christmas trees found their way into stores, official buildings and restaurants. They are decoration items on Christmas markets and in dominant places in towns and cities.

The roots of the Christmas tree date back to pagan times. Green branches were used to conjure (call up) summer during winter solstice celebrations. Imitations of this tradition were kept throughout the centuries.

The first decorated Christmas tree was documented in notes from a 1597 meeting in the town of Tuerckheim in the Alsace region, France. These documents list the different guilds’ expenses for tree decorations, and they also state that in order to protect the local forests, each citizen was allowed to only cut one tree. The same documents mention the type of decorations at that time – gingerbread, apples, sugar candy and paper flowers.

It is not documented whether the Christmas tree originates in the Alsace region. Several towns in the Black Forest also claim to be the place of origin for the Christmas tree. So either from Alsace or the Black Forest, the Christmas tree later moved to the Pfalz region.

***image2***The first tree decorated with lights showed up in the former Palatinate metropolis of Heidelberg. In letters from 1708, electoral princess Lieselotte von der Pfalz mentioned a common box-tree with candles on every branch. She also talked about tables, which were set up like altars with presents for the children – clothes, dolls, candy and more.

Until the turn of the century, the so-called “sugar tree” made of a pole stuck with wire branches and wrapped with green paper served as a Christmas tree. This tree was mainly decorated with candy and cookies.

Until the middle of the 19th century, only Protestants accepted the custom of putting up a Christmas tree. The most important Christmas symbol in Catholic regions was the nativity scene. Both customs had not been mingled and Catholics and Protestants stayed in their own regions. Finally, after Napoleon’s wars and the Vienna Congress, the Prussians moved into Catholic areas. From then on, for both religions, the Christmas tree was a symbol of German culture.

Emigrating Germans spread the custom of the Christmas tree all over the world – to Russia, Brazil, and Mennonites and Amish people took it to their new homes in Pennsylvania.

In Germany, about 23 million Christmas trees are sold each year. Several communities in the Kaiserslautern County allow people to cut their own tree.
In Enkenbach-Alsenborn, people can join council members in the forest next to the Keltengrab (Celtric grave) to cut a tree from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
The Kaiserslautern forestry office offers cutting trees in Stelzenberg near Forsthaus Horst from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Landstuhl offers trees from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday near the parking lot Lochweiher.

Christmas tree safety tips

• For an artificial tree, check to ensure it is fire resistant
• If buying a live tree, make sure it is fresh
• Ensure live tree needles are not dried out
• For live trees, color should be vibrant
• Needles should be hard to pull from branches
• Live trees require watering daily
• With live trees, cut off at least two inches of the trunk for better water absorption
• Place tree away from traffic areas; do not block doorways
• Discard tree as soon as the holidays are over
• Use lights as directed; indoor lights and outdoor lights are identified on the labels
• Check each set of lights for broken, cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections; discard damaged sets
• Never leave lights on when not at home
(Courtesy of the 86th Airlift Wing Safety Office)

This year, the Otterberg forestry office doesn’t offer the cutting of trees, but sells them from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. near their office on Otterstrasse.
The Westpfalz Werkstätten Landstuhl (workshop for disabled people) sells Christmas trees 1 to 6 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday on Langenfelderhof in Mackenbach.