Monday, 10 December 2012

Christmas Trees, Druids and Saints

Christmas Trees, Druids ad Saints

Yesterday morning, my three year-old granddaughter and I decorated my Christmas tree. “Beautiful,” she said when the lights were turned on, “Beautiful,” she shouted with all the delightful enthusiasm of a small girl, when I draped the tree with tinsel garlands. And then she sang Jiggle Bells – her version of Jingle Bells while we put shiny decorations on the tree; and then she fell in love with the angel for the top of the tree. “I like it,” she told me when I put it in place.

After she went home I researched Christmas trees. I had always associated the first ones in England with Queen Victoria and Albert but, to my surprise, I discovered Christmas, or fir trees, were important in the seventh an eighth century.

Saint Wilfred, 634-709, cut down an oak tree sacred to pagan gods. After the oak split in half, a fir tree sprouted from the centre. The saint declared the fir was dedicated to Christ and that its evergreen branches represented eternal life. There is another story about another English saint, Boniface 680-754, who cut down an oak, the tree sacred to druids. When pagan gods neither took revenge nor protected the pagans for chopping down the oak, it helped the saint to convert people to Christianity.

In Germany, during the mediaeval era, the fir tree symbolised the Garden of Eden in mummers’ plays and, maybe, in England. However, it seems Christmas trees were not set up indoors at that period, but there is a picture dated 1521 (just after the mediaeval period) of a decorated fir being carried down a German street.

Today, artificial Christmas trees are available in pink, white, green and other colours but, although I have a large green, artificial tree for environmental reasons, nothing is superior to the fragrance of a real fir tree. Next year I might buy a small tree and plant it in the garden after Twelfth Night.