What’s the Story Behind Your Christmas Tree?
December 24, 2020
As we headed toward Christmas Eve, I had stared at the colorful lights on our tree so many times that I got to wondering: Why do we bring trees into our homes for Christmas? It’s a strange tradition, but Christmas doesn’t seem complete without the iconic tree.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, my family and I went out into the world to find our very own Christmas tree for this year. We traveled high and low but ended up buying one here at the local Home Depot. We brought it in and decorated it with all the ornaments we had, dressing it up with blue, gold, silver, and red ornaments. In the midst of that happy activity, my mom and I remembered the small owl that had been discovered and rescued from the huge Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York City last month. We made sure our tree had its very own owl (an ornament of course) to help us remember a couple of funny things that happened in this otherwise challenging year.
Christmas trees are a staple of this time of year. New York and other big cities put up trees for the community to enjoy. Even East Palo Alto has its own little Christmas tree in Bell Street Park. But why?
I did a little research. As someone who is fascinated by the lives of the British royal family, I was surprised to learn that the tradition of the Christmas tree came to the United States thanks to Queen Victoria. She was extremely popular among her subjects, and when a sketch that showed her and her family decorating a tree in 1848 reached the public, the Christmas tree craze took off.
Many people top off their trees with one extra-special decoration, the bright star. Why does a star make a Christmas tree? The answer to that lies in the Christian story of the birth of Jesus: The star on top of the tree symbolizes the star of Bethlehem that led the three kings (also known as the three wise men), to Jesus’ birth in the manger. This is the story shown in the Nativity scenes that many churches set up for Christmas.
But, believe it or not, it is still unclear if Christmas is actually the date that Jesus was born. Many contend that Jesus was born in a warmer month, like June, because it is less likely that three wise men would travel in the middle of winter. What most likely happened, experts say, is that Christians decided to celebrate Christmas in December because it lined up with pagan holidays such as the Roman pagan solstice from Dec. 17 to 25, which celebrated Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture and time.
The Christmas season and the new year ahead mark a time where the world just feels like a better place. The season of giving takes over, and as we prepare to say farewell to this year, the comforting vibes of Christmas prepare us for what comes next. Next time you take a look at your Christmas tree, appreciate how it lights up and brings fun into your home and also that a long history hides behind the shiny lights and ornaments.