The symbol of the holidays

by Petra Lessoing
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

It can be seen everywhere — in homes, department stores, churches, offices and
public places. The Christmas tree. In Germany, it is the most popular symbol of the holidays.

The roots of the Christmas tree date back to Pagan times. Green branches were used to conjure summer during the celebration of  winter solstice. Imitations of this tradition were kept throughout centuries.

The first decorated Christmas tree was documented in notes from a meeting in 1597 in the town of Türckheim in the Alsace region of 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.
Several towns in the Black Forest also claim to be the place of origin for the Christmas tree. So either from the Alsace or the Black Forest, the Christmas tree moved to the Pfalz region.

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. They also referred to tables, which were set up like altars with presents for the children.

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.

Around 1800, Christmas trees hung down from the ceiling in smaller homes. They were decorated with little apples, nuts and sugar cookies, which of course were eaten, since people were poor.

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.

The first Christmas tree in the White House was put up in 1891.
Today, most Germans put up their Christmas tree in the second half of December. But some German families stick to the old tradition of not putting it up until Christmas Eve.

And, customarily, they keep it up until Three Kings Day, Jan. 6.