It is Christmas time: fresh Christmas trees are just about on every street corner, or waiting to be cut, taken home and dressed in holiday sparkle.
But how did evergreen trees, whether pine, spruce or fir, become one of the symbol of Christmas?
There are many legends surrounding the history of Christmas trees and what evergreen trees symbolize.
The evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans, for istance, used branches to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come, romans used fir trees to decorate their homes for the New Year, and Christians used evergreens as a sign of everlasting life with God.
Fir trees were first used as Christmas trees, a tradition that probably began about 1,000 years ago in Northern Europe. Other early Christmas trees, in many parts of the same area, were cherry or hawthorn plants, or a branch of the plant, that were put into pots and brought inside so they would flower at Christmas time. Two cities argue about the first documented use of a tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations: Tallinn in Estonia and Riga in Latvia. Both claim they had the first trees, Tallinn in 1441 and Riga in 1510. In the town square of Riga there is a plaque that is engraved with “The First New Year’s Tree in Riga in 1510” in eight languages, while a picture from Germany in 1521 shows a tree being paraded through the streets with a man riding a horse behind it, dressed as a bishop, possibly representing St. Nicholas.
Whatever its’ origin, the Christmas tree is a symbol of hope for the Christmas season.
But why the other trees lose their leaves in winter?
In the early times, the trees and animals were always able to talk to one another. They lived close to each other and shared many things. But every year, the cold time came and the birds would fly south to where it remained warm and would return with their families in the spring, when the warm season returned.
One winter, when the birds were all leaving for warmer areas, a little bird broke its wing on the way and was left behind. Soon frost and snow covered the forest and she was cold and hungry. So she asked the trees to help her and let her stay in its branches.
However, they are not always kind: the birch tree was proud of being beautiful and haughtily replied to the bird’s pleas by saying that he could not possibly help him because he had to look after the birds of the forest first. The strong oak tree was reluctant because it was afraid that the bird would have to live there till spring time and would eat up some of its acorns. Even the willow tree that seemed to be gentle, refused to help or even talk to the strangers.
Thus the poor bird, in much distress, tried to fly some more but her wing was still not fit for the purpose. Seeing her struggling like this, the spruce tree asked her, why she seems so downcast. When the bird revealed her miseries, it offered her the thickest, softest and warmest branch to stay. The bird was really glad to find some help. Inspired by the kindness of spruce tree, the big and strong pine tree also volunteered to protect the spruce tree and the bird from the North Wind all through the winter, while the little juniper tree offered him its berries to quench her hunger. Hence, winter passed by and the bird was safe and warm. In due time, her broken wings were also healed and by spring, she was ready to fly back to her friends.
The Frost King, who kept close note of the behavior of all trees, strictly instructed the North Wind not to touch even a single leaf of spruce, pine and juniper trees, while he was free to play havoc with the leaves of other trees. The North Wind especially enjoyed in plucking the shining, green leaves of the willow, oak and the other trees and leaving them bare for the winters, with nothing to protect them from snow, rain and sleet. It is for this kindness that the leaves of the spruce, the pine, and the juniper are always green and they are known as evergreen trees.
After reading this legend, are you able to understand the importance of compassion, love and care, but also the right essence of the message of Christmas through this story?