What’s the story behind that Christmas tree?


Lorna Marquardt, Leader Columnist

Photo by Lorna Marquardt One tree in Lorna Marquardt’s home year after year is a Raggedy Ann and Andy tree, with traditional candy canes representing the dolls’ legs and a variety of dolls hanging from, around and even on top of the tree.

Christmas trees are placed in many homes, churches and stores around the world. There are numerous interesting stories about the origin of the Christmas tree, and today I will share with you some of that history.

In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and the longest night of the year falls on Dec. 21 or Dec. 22 and is called the winter solstice. Centuries ago people believed the sun was a god and winter came because the sun became sick and weak. Pagans used branches to decorate their homes to keep away evil and as a reminder spring would still come.

The evergreen fir tree has been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Romans used fir trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God.

The modern Christmas tree tradition dates back to western Germany in the 16th century. Paradeisbaum (paradise trees) representing the Garden of Eden were brought into homes to celebrate the annual Feast of Adam and Eve on Dec. 24.

Those who didn’t have a real tree made pyramids of wood and decorated them to look like a tree.

It has been said the first person to bring a Christmas tree into a house may have been the 16th century preacher Martin Luther. A story was told that one night before Christmas he was walking through the forest writing a sermon and he looked up and saw the stars shining through the tree branches. It was such a beautiful sight that he went home and told his children it reminded him of Jesus who left the stars of heaven to come to earth on that first Christmas. It is said he brought in a tree and tied candles on the tree depicting the stars.

In Germany, the first trees were also decorated with edible things like gingerbread, berries, nuts and apples. At first a figure of the Baby Jesus was put on the top of the tree. Over time, it changed to an angel who told the shepherds about Jesus or a star like the one the Wise Men saw.

President Franklin Pierce (1804-1869) arranged to have the first tree in the White House during the 1850s. President Calvin Coolidge (1885-1933) started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923.

There are still some who condemn the Christmas tree because they believe the cutting of the tree, bringing it into the home and decorating it is a pagan custom. However, many see it as a primarily secular symbol of hope for the New Year and the return of warmth to the earth. Today, the Christmas tree has become accepted by most Christians, by people of other faiths, and those who do not follow an organized religion.

The first Christmas tree I remember as a child was filled with cookies my dad cut out: horses, cows, camels, etc. My mother tied the cookies on the branches with colorful ribbon. Popcorn balls wrapped in colorful paper and cherry candy on wires adorned the tree. There were bubble lights and pretty ornaments, too. My mother filled the tree with icicles (tinsel). A favorite childhood memory.

Over the years, we have had live as well as artificial trees trimmed in a variety of ways. I remember in 1976 we made a patriotic red, white and blue tree.

I particularly enjoyed making a Raggedy Ann and Andy tree. I have many ornaments and even some Raggedy Ann garland. A smiling doll wearing a beautiful Christmas dress topped the tree. Red and white candy canes represented their striped legs. Dolls still in their boxes were placed around the tree on the colorful Raggedy tree skirt. Such a smiling, happy tree!

Another family favorite has been the Christmas Grinch tree covered with Grinch ornaments, pictures, books and different sizes of stuffed Grinches. A red sled with a large Grinch at the helm was filled with a gag gift wrapped in ugly green paper for each guest. Lots of laughter.

This year we have decided to have a live tree, and it will be decorated with my mother’s beautiful old ornaments and cookie cutters. Hundreds of white lights will be a reminder of the stars in heaven, where many beautiful souls will celebrate Christmas with Jesus.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

Thy leaves are so unchanging

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

Thy leaves are so unchanging

Not only green when summer’s here,

But also when it’s cold and drear

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,

Thy leaves are so unchanging.

The answer to last week’s trivia question: Red clothing was first required in 1945. Blaze orange was required in 1980.

This week’s question: What was the name of the first elementary school in the city of Shawano, and in what year was it erected?

Lorna Marquardt is a former mayor of Shawano.