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Christmas tree traditions



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December 29, 2010
Christmas hasn't arrived yet as I write about the Christmas tree and its history. Christmas 2010 will be history by the time you read this but maybe your tree will still be casting its happy glow.

From the "Outdoor News" in the Tri-City Times of 2003, Gordie Charles writes "Christmas tree has long history." I write from it in part.

Years ago, it was customary for the man of the house to head for the woods, cut a shapely spruce or fir tree and haul it back home to help celebrate the Christmas season. Back then, nobody felt it was necessary to get permission from the private landowner. Or if it was on state or federal land that was also considered free for the taking.

To do such a thing these days would likely lead to a stiff fine in court for "stealing" from others. These days, some people still like to cut their own Christmas trees and the whole family probably goes along. They pay for such now, usually from a commercial Christmas tree grower and take plenty of time to pick out the perfect evergreen. Hauling it back to the car and taking it home is always a thrill to the kids; that part hasn't changed at all.

The Romans celebrated the winter solstice with a feast called Saturnalia in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture. They decorated their houses with greens and lights and exchanged gifts. Coins were given for prosperity, pastries for happiness and lamps to light one's journey through life.

Centuries ago in great Britain, wood priests called Druids also used evergreens during their mysterious winter solstice rituals. Many still do the same, often using holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life and hang those branches over doors to keep away evil spirits.

Later in the Middle Ages, Germans and Scandinavians placed evergreen trees inside their homes or just outside their doors to show their hope in forthcoming spring. Our modern Christmas trees evolved from those old traditions.

Legend has it that Martin Luther began the tradition of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas. One crisp, clear Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, he was walking home through snow covered woods when he stopped in awe. A group of small evergreens stood nearby in the moonlight. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in that light. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share his story with his children. He decorated it with candles which he lighted in honor of Christ's birth. Another account says that Luther decorated a tree with candles to show his children symbols of the heavens which had sent Jesus.

In 1851, farmer Mark Carr hauled two ox sleds of evergreens into York City and sold them all. The Christmas tree market was born. By 1900 one in every five American families had a Christmas tree, with the custom nearly universal by 1920. Christmas tree farms originated during the Depression in the 1930s. Nurserymen couldn't sell their evergreens for landscaping so they cut them for Christmas trees.

By the time you read this it will be close to New Year's Eve and turning over a new leaf to 2011...but not without reminiscing the New Year's Eves spent with wonderful friends, many of whom are gone but not forgotten.

Happy New Year!

—Country Cousin

Gertie Brooks is a lifelong Almont area resident. A 'farm girl,' Gertie is the premier historian for the Almont area, and frequently offers her memories and first-hand accounts in her 'Country Cousin' columns.
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