For centuries, people have had the desire to decorate the space they live in with decorations that appear to serve no other purpose than to create beauty. While Christmas decorations seem to be the most plentiful, we have come to decorate for many events in honor of not only holidays but personal achievements and milestones as well. We associate specific Christmas decorations with the tradition of the holiday such as Christmas trees with, of course, Christmas ornaments and Christmas tree lights to decorate it, as well as Christmas wreaths and fireplace decorations. The origins of our standard holiday traditions may surprise you though.
Christmas decorating as a practice is usually attributed to Francis of Assisi for his unique mass in 1223. In an effort to bring the story of Jesus to life, St. Francis was the first to recreate a nativity scene with hay and animals inside a natural cave and perform his mass alongside the display. This visual representation of the Christmas story later evolved into decorating churches and homes.
The source of the Christmas tree itself is debatable since as with so many things, different cultures and beliefs have long held evergreen plants as a symbol of hope during the barren winter months. Pagan celebrations traditionally brought evergreens into homes during the month of December for Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival in honor of the god Saturn. Not surprisingly, the church forbade this practice as a pagan ritual.
By legend, German priest Martin Luther is thought to have established the decorating of a Christmas tree around 1500 when he appreciated the beauty of moonlit, snow covered, evergreen trees and brought one inside to share the sight with his children, lighting it with candles to represent the moonlight. Credit for changing the symbolism of the evergreen tree is generally given to Germans and their belief that the triangle shape of the tree represented the trinity. Germans added small white candles as decorations in the 16th century yet even this tradition can be linked back to offering shelter to woodland spirits when other trees have lost their leaves.
Christmas Tree Decorations
Original German Christmas trees were decorated not only with candles, but also candy. The candy, particularly marzipan, was molded into interesting shapes perhaps being the first Christmas tree ornaments. Other early Christmas tree decorations included apples, paper flowers and eventually glass ornaments first made famous by glass makers in Nuremburg, Germany.
The invention of Christmas tree lights is a whole other story.