Once a year, thousands of families chop down a living tree, bring it inside their homes, and decorate it with lights, tinsel, and ornaments. This is considered perfectly normal, despite objective reasoning to the contrary. Especially at Christmas time, tradition is king. And perhaps no tradition is more powerful than that of the Christmas tree, whose iconic form and shape has become synonymous with the very idea of Christmas. So how did a tree gain entry to both the homes and collective hearts of a population? Bernd Brunner aims to trace the tree’s traditional history in his new book, Inventing the Christmas Tree.
It is important to remember that the Christmas tree does not appear at all in early Christian song and prayer; rather, this tradition has its roots elsewhere. References to decorated trees can be traced back as far as the 1400s, and although it is mentioned in a variety of cultures, perhaps the strongest connections can be made in Alsace, the landscape between France and Germany. By the mid-1500s, there are documented laws in place to limit the felling of pine trees in Strasbourg, demonstrating the prevalence and popularity of the practice by that year. From there, the custom continued to spread.
Brunner’s work starts with this early history and follows the tree across cultures and through centuries. Although its record may not be entirely certain, Brunner does assert this:
Everyone who has ever had a Christmas tree has carried the tradition forward and made it his or her own. Each person has played with the various elements to approach his or her idea of a perfect tree. In the process the custom has undergone astounding change and adaptation, and everywhere in the worlds where the tradition is alive today, further evolution continues.
Those interested in Brunner’s findings should check out his event at the Goethe Institut this Saturday, December 8th. And those cultural historians, Christmas fanatics, and lovers of tradition that cannot attend will love this beautiful little book in their stockings this year.
Courtesy : Yale University