The coniferous fir tree has become an evergreen symbol of winter festivities. Having no theological ties, it is still the most iconic element of the holiday season. Romans, Vikings, and various other cultures used its branches to signify hope during the days of the winter solstice. Initiated by the Pagans, it is interesting to note that the Christmas tree is older than the festival itself. In that way, Christmas is special; over the years, it has acquired traditions from various cultures, protecting them from getting lost in time.
Germans are thought to have started the practice of decorating trees during Christmas. Back in the 16th century, fruits, nuts, and berries were used as decor, with primitive versions of tinsel. Soon, this ritual spread throughout Europe, giving birth to an industry centered around Christmas ornaments. By the 18th century, the Christmas tree was ubiquitous in America, and almost all places with a Christian presence.
Sometime around the 1850s, baubles were invented in the glass-working town of Lauscha. Initially, they were shaped like nuts, slowly evolving into the spheres we know and love today. Popularized by the Queen of Britain—the hand-crafted ornaments were meant only for the rich. American retailer, F.W. Woolworth, allegedly made millions importing baubles in the late 20th century. Later on, plastic adaptations caught on rapidly because of their affordability. Soon after the World Wars, Lauscha was no more the hub of glass-working it used to be. It is said that in the 1940s, children were gifted blind dolls on Christmas because glass-eyes could no longer be imported from communist Lauscha to West Germany.
People of all cultures see lights and festivities as synonymous; Christmas is no different. In the 16th century, candles were an integral part of Christmas decor, and to some extent, they still are. To put little flames over timber, however, might not have been the best of ideas. House fires were a common event during the days of winter back then. The situation was so terrible till the early 20th century that insurance companies tried to get a law passed to ban the use of candles on Christmas trees. It’s no surprise that Christmas lights caught on like wildfire later in the 20th century. Not only did they light up Christmas but also prevented it from burning the house down.
These various elements from all around the world are now an inherent part of the Christmas spirit. Bright stars atop the Christmas trees are probably the only kind of decor that hold religious value. They signify the Star of Bethlehem which led the three wise men to Jesus. With a symbol of its roots on the top, a Christmas tree can be decorated anyway you please. A perfect analogy for one of the most accepting religions in the world with its essence deeply rooted in tradition. Something that perhaps needs to be remembered now, more than ever.
— Chintan Gandhi and Riya Peters for MTTN
— Photographs from MTTN Crew and Stock Images