Day 11 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: O Tannenbaum
The tradition of Christmas trees are originally a German one, that can be traced back to the ancient Gauls, who used to surround their homes with evergreen branches during winter. But if you think about, the decorated Christmas trees of our modern tradition are rather new. Most give the introduction of the Christmas tree tradition to Queen Victoria, but already the tradition was spreading from Germany as Germans were immigrating from their country. Queen Victoria herself grew up with two Christmas trees set up in her room every year, but with the printing of the above illustration in Godey's Lady's Book in December of 1850, this new tradition of decorating a family Christmas tree was spreading rapidly through the Western world. This image was continually reprinted in such feminine magazines like Godey's every year and by 1870 setting up a Christmas tree in the family home was a common thing.
Since we can trace the Christmas tree tradition back to Germany, so can we trace one of the oldest Christmas carols, "O Tannenbaum" (translated 'fir tree' but sung "O Christmas Tree" in English). The earliest known written lyrics can be dated back to 1550. The popular tune, which has been used to the lyrics of state anthems, and have been in everything from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" to "Glee."
So as we decorate our Christmas tree, I am reminded of the old tradition of evergreens and how commonplace the tradition may now seem for us today were not as familiar to our ancestral counterparts. The tradition of a decorated Christmas tree is a rather new one in America.
“To study history is to study the motives, the opinions, and the passions of men in order to know all the successes, the initiatives and the detours, and finally all the illusions that they make known to the mind and the surprises that they make the heart feel. In a word, it is to learn to known oneself in others.”—Jean Mabillon, 15th c. Benedictine scholar.