‘Tis the season for holly and poinsettias, trees and twinkling lights. A home that is beautifully decorated for the holiday season invokes warmth, comfort, and joy! As we adorn our homes for the holiday season, have you ever stopped to wonder how traditional Christmas décor came to be? Let’s look at the interesting history behind some of America’s favorite holiday decorations!
The Christmas Tree
The use of evergreen trees and garland is quite ancient, outdating Christianity. Evergreens were seen as a symbol of eternal life to ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews. However, the modern-day Christmas tree has it roots in Germany. Every December 24th medieval Germans would celebrate the feast day of Adam and Eve with the Paradise Play. The Paradise Play depicted the story of Adam and Eve and featured a “paradise tree”. The paradise tree was an evergreen tree hung with apples that represented the Garden of Eden. Over the centuries attending the Paradise Play went out of fashion, but Germans began putting up a paradise tree in their homes every year on December 24th in honor of the feast day. They would hang wafers on the tree to symbolize the eucharistic host and candles to symbolize Christ as the light of the world. With time it became custom to trim the tree into the shape of a triangle, representing the trinity. The Christmas tree tradition came to the America’s as early as the 1600’s with the German settlers and by the 1800’s was very fashionable!
The Christmas Wreath
The Christmas wreath tradition is directly tied to the Christmas tree! When trimming the tree into a triangular shape, the cut limbs were gathered and formed into a circle. The circle represented divine perfection, and again, the evergreen represented eternal life. It was also a practical shape that could be hung on the branches of the Christmas tree as a decoration and made good use of the trimmed tree limbs so they would not go to waste. In time, the advent wreath became a symbol of Christian faith as it was lain flat on a surface and adorned with 4-5 candles. 4 candles represented the 4 weeks in advent. The first 3 candles traditionally are purple, representing hope, peace, and love. The 4th candle is red, symbolizing the joy of new life gained through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. If a 5th candle is lit, traditionally it is white and welcomes Jesus’ birth.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, over 70 million poinsettias are sold in the United States! This beautiful holiday bloom has an interesting history. The poinsettia is native to Taxco, Mexico. The Aztecs called it “cuetlaxochitl” and used it to create red clothing dye. The poinsettia became a traditional holiday plant due to its bright red flowers. During the 17th century, Spanish Franciscan priests in Mexico admired the Christmas red flowers and used them to decorate the nativity during the Fiesta of Santa Pesebre. In 1825 U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, became quite enamored with the plant. Poinsett was also a skilled botanist and began propagating the plant, distributing it to friends, family, and botanical gardens. The plant was appropriately named after him! The poinsettia became popular during the holidays in the United States due to its Christmas red flowers and seasonal bloom.
There you have a little history behind some joyful holiday décor! Agape Construction wishes you a very Merry Christmas!