O Anthropology: Some History of the Christmas Tree


Photo Courtesy of Hailey M. She’s all ready for Christmas!

Christmas time is here again. At least, that’s what the stores’ decorations say. So what better way to start off the beginnings of Christmas cheer than with a little lesson about the symbol of the holidays: the Christmas tree!

Now, some might say that the Christmas tree is a Christian symbol (Christ, Christianity, Christmas), but in actuality, it’s more probable that it is based on the Yule log of the pagan Germanic tribes during their winter festivals, particularly the winter solstice. According to ritual, the Yule log was decorated in seasonal greens (holly, ivy, mistletoe) and set ablaze to burn throughout the night as a representation of the newborn sun, signifying the start of days getting longer. The Yule log was also supposed to either be a gift from someone or harvested from one’s own land. The whole “going out and cutting down a tree and bringing it into the house” thing makes a little more sense now, doesn’t it? Pagan Rome was also involved in the festivities:



The adoption of this holiday by non-pagans led to the romanticized idea of Christmas, generally seen as the idea of Christmas celebrated today. The Christmas tree was seen by people as a symbol of the holidays, just like it is today. Back in the Victorian period, gifts were giving usually on New Year’s, and were modest: nuts, fruits, and small hand-made trinkets. These were usually put on the tree to decorate it. When gift giving became more central to the holiday (sounds like the present), gifts got larger and were store-bought. This was also the time that gifts were moved under the tree. Picture it in the present time: little Billy getting a store bought toy soldier instead of the lovely scarf that Grandma knitted for him. Perhaps BBC can explain it better than I can: http://www.bbc.co.uk/victorianchristmas/history.shtml

But let’s be honest: getting presents is nice, giving presents feels great, and seeing friends and family smiling is one of the best things in the world. The snowy nights give Christmas a romantic feeling, doesn’t it? Which is why I, Casey Rae Bobek, strongly encourage smart behavior. Drink responsibly (no need to spew the cheer all over your buddy’s rug), and play it safe (and by that, I mean take a little time to visit the Health Center, the drug store, or Professor Bessette’s office).

Happy Holidays!

Feature image for this post courtesy of Flickr user Pimthida, used here under a Creative Commons license.

About the author

Casey Bobek

Hey, guys! I’m bad at introductions, but allow me to tell you a little about myself. My name is Casey Bobek, and I am majoring in Liberal Arts, with a special interest in English. When I first came to JCC, I saw it as a necessary stepping stone to use; an obstacle to overcome to reach a career in the literary world. Turns out, college wasn’t this big problem I needed to deal with, but an opportunity to enjoy, especially as I began my second year. Growing up with a passion to write and a love of learning, and with a little friendly pushing from my best friend and my mom to do something with my time, I decided to take a leap and get into blogging. Anthropology wasn’t ever really touched on in my high school, and I’d wager it wasn’t really touched on in many high schools in the county. A shame, really, because it’s quite an interesting subject to learn, which is why I want to let you know a little bit about it. My writing could never replace a full-blown Anthropology class, but if any luck, it’ll catch your attention. Never too late to learn something new!