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Christmas trees represent peace and goodwill

In Education, Entertainment, Health, Media, National News, Opinion, Politics, psychology, Religion, sociology on December 3, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Deer In Headlines

By Gery L. Deer

1836 sketch of a Christmas tree in America

1836 sketch of a Christmas tree in America

Are you offended by the term, “Christmas” tree? Or, on the other hand, maybe you get upset when someone refers to a “holiday” tree? Whatever your viewpoint, you might be surprised to learn that until the 1840’s, the Christmas tree was virtually nonexistent in America and largely considered a pagan symbol. Like many other Christian images and traditions, the tree was borrowed from earlier beliefs.

In fact, leaders of early New England Puritan societies preached against what they considered to be “heathen traditions,” such as caroling, decorating and so on. Around 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts declared any observance of the “sacred” December 25th holiday a penal offense.

Only church services were permitted and anything else, even the simplest ornaments or decorations, earned the offender punishment by fine or imprisonment. That mentality continued, for the most part, until the 19th Century when the first recorded display of a Christmas tree in America was by German settlers of Pennsylvania in 1830. So what happened? History.com offers this explanation.

“In 1846, the popular royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Unlike the previous royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at court immediately became fashionable—not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society.”

And with that, the Christmas tree was finally accepted in the New World. But why is the evergreen used? As it turns out, that story has ancient beginnings. During the winter solstice, ancient people collected evergreen boughs and placed them over entrances and windows. It was believed in many countries that the evergreen helped to keep away evil spirits, witches, demons and other supernatural bad guys.

The mysterious Druids, the Vikings and even the ancient Egyptians and the Romans had similar tree-related practices. Today, 16th Century Deutschland is credited with the origins of the modern Christmas tree, or tannenbaum, a German word meaning “fir tree.”  Devout Germans borrowed the ancient practice and added decorations to the trees, brought them into their homes and eventually added candles and gifts to the tradition.

In the 21st Century, the tree has finally become the centerpiece of Christmas holiday decor. Some of the largest trees are placed on the grounds of The White House in Washington D.C., and New York City’s, Rockerfeller Center. But as America grows increasingly secular regarding Christmas, people are starting to refer to “holiday” trees, effectively removing the Christian association from the emblem.

As odd as it might sound, given the varied history of the institution, it may be more accurate to share the image outside the Christian connotation. Since the tradition stems from such ancient beginnings, thousands of years before Christ, tree decorating is not uniquely Christian. Hard line Christians may be offended by this idea, but hopefully they can see the promise over the offense. Sharing the practice may open the hearts of those less cordial, regardless of their faith.

Whether to you it is truth or myth, the story of the birth of Christ is one of hope. Christmas is not about the decorations, songs or presents associated with the holiday. It’s about a spirit of good will to celebrate the hope that mankind can be better than he is the other 364 days of the year.

For the truly devout, deeply held faith cannot be rocked by the change in reference to one holiday image. But remember, respect for beliefs other than your own should be paramount if Christmas is to have any meaning at all. Only through respect, understanding and kindness can there truly be peace on earth and goodwill to… everyone. Have a Merry Christmas, a joyful Hanukkah and a happy and safe New Year.