Dec 22, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree

Funny how we haven't gotten to this one yet. I mean, how does one rationally cut down a perfectly good carbon trap, ship it from the farthest northern region of Michigan, slap it on to a car and then put it in the house - then put shinny glass things on it, while then either lighting candles on a dried out fire stick, or wrapping it with electric lights? And this has to do with the Christ Child... er, how, exactly?

And isn't it kind of blasphemous too? As Jeremiah the prophet admonishes those who dare to erect such a pagan artifact: "Thus saith the Lord, learn not the way of the heathen...For the customs of the people are vain; for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not." (Jeremiah 10:2-6)

To find the origin of Christmas trees, again we go to pre-Christian (read icky dirty Pagans) Northern Europe. The nice folks who lived there believed that trees, especially fruit trees and evergreens, were the embodiment of powerful beings. But, why would they then cut these trees down and put them in the house? Wouldn't that, you know, kill the being inside it? Right, they thought so too! So they didn't. Now we have to jump forward to the fourteenth century - where on December 24th, as part of the miracle play was the story of Adam and Eve. They'd hang an apple in an evergreen to symbolize the paradise tree. Hey! Guess where those shinny red things you hang come from? There you go, we're learning stuff!

About two hundred years later in sixteenth century the Germans began hanging evergreens in their homes - which could have been a misguided attempt at the Yule Log (see our earlier post) or they were just really cold and would rather look at the tree in their home than outside? The German Christbaüme, or Christ Trees, were decorated with fruit, candies, cookies, and Eucharist wafers.

There's a rumor that Martin Luther is the first person to put candles on the tree, and therefore invented Christmas lights - but the funny thing about history is that he was probably trying to burn the Christmas tree down, and it was misinterpreted as a new decoration.

The mostly German tradition probably would have stayed with the Glüwein, and a few expats living in the US. Except a few German merchants gave one to Queen Victoria. Well, actually, it was for her boyfriend Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg. And as soon as the ladies saw etchings in Godey's Lady's Book (the Oprah of the Victorian Age) everyone had to have one... and they did. And no one ever once asked why.'

Artificial trees were also a German invention, but they were goose feathers that were dyed green. Now that's Festive! But this was a response to the deforestation of Germany. In the 1930's the Addis Brush Company made fake trees from brush bristles. Couldn't find the pipe cleaners, I guess? And like in the Charlie Brown special - there really were aluminum trees in the late 50's. Probably to go with that new aluminum siding on their homes? Today, most are made in China out of PVC or some other type of petroleum based plastic. Aproximately 10% of artificial Christmas trees are using virgin suspension PVC resin and despite being plastic most artificial trees are not recyclable or biodegradable.

Should you go plastic or real? Well, we debated that one way back in 2007.

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