Monday, December 10, 2012

Folk Symbol: Christmas Tree

Folklore celebrates the beliefs and customs of folk. These traditions – how special occasions like birth are recognized, how food is prepared and served, how dance steps are selected, how tools and other useful implements are decorated and how important information is passed on through stories and games– reflect the common wisdom that has helped people understand the mysteries of the world they live in. 

During winter one of the most common celebrations is Christmas and one of the more popular folk symbols is the Christmas tree. This festive occasion is similar to winter darkness festivities around the world. All of them ‘light the darkness’ with hope in the coming of spring; a time of birth and re-birth.

The decorated Christmas tree can be traced back to the ancient Romans who during their winter festival decorated trees with small pieces of metal during Saturnalia, a winter festival in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture.

Once designed for community-wide gatherings, these specially forested trees were village centerpieces. Over time the winter celebrations became less communal and more personal with people taking the holiday indoors, literally. 

Christmas trees were sold at local markets and set up in homes undecorated in Germany in the 16th century.  Devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes or they built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles.  It is believed that Martin Luther, the protestant reformer, was the first to add lighted candles on the trees.

In the 19th century the Christmas tree began to appear in the United States. It was first introduced during the War of Independence by Hessian troops. Folklore reports that a Christmas tree was set up by American soldiers at Fort Dearborn, Illinois, the site of Chicago, in 1804. Most other early accounts were among the German settlers in eastern Pennsylvania. 

While Europeans used small trees, Americans preferred trees that reach from the floor to the ceiling.  Tree decorating hit a new height in the 20th century when American started using homemade ornaments. Christmas lights came shortly after electricity.

Franklin Pierce was the first president to introduce the Christmas tree to the White House in 1856 for a group of Washington Sunday School children. The first national Christmas Tree was lighted in the year 1923 on the White House lawn by President Calvin Coolidge.

In America today, Christmas trees are grown in all fifty states, including Hawaii and Alaska. The top six Christmas tree producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Washington & Wisconsin. The Christmas tree farm industry employs about 100,000 each year until recently, all trees came from forests. 

Here are few sites that provide do-it-yourself ornament making ideas:

Homemade Ornaments
Recycled Ornaments 

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