Christmas means many things for people. Most have no idea of the origin of Christmas or the tree. In 354 AD, a Catholic bishop chose to celebrate the birth of Jesus in order to turn the pagan Romans away from celebrating the "Birth of the Unconquered Sun," which was considered a pagan celebration for the winter solstice. The winter solstice has had great meaning throughout the world. The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year and some consider it the rebirth of the sun with the days becoming longer. Having researched ancient history, I have learned that history is a convoluted mess. The pagans, i.e. non-Christians celebrated the winter solstice and used the oak tree in their celebrations. Over the years, it became an evergreen tree when the Germanic pagan tribes adopted it. The origin of today's Christmas tree began in Germany and did not spread to England until 1832 and then to the United States.
In 1952, I was working at the American Embassy in Paris and I had only been there for a few months. It was now nearing the Christmas holidays. Since I had an affinity for the Christmas tree, my apartment mate and I found a small tree to sit on the top of a small table. The French custom in Paris at that time was to go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and then have a feast afterwards topped with a Yule Log cake. The Yule Log is symbolic of keeping a fire burning during the longest night of the year. Gifts were not exchanged until the 12 days following Christmas. Christmas decorations were hard to find. I found a small nativity set and ornaments in a store and purchased them. The ornaments were small, but they were a symbol of my love for the Christmas tree.
The week following Christmas, I traveled to Germany to visit friends at the Embassy in Bonn. One evening a group of us went to a nightclub in the basement of some business building. In France and Germany, these nightclubs were called caves. A young German man asked me to dance and I was startled. He was a stranger and he spoke in English, but I was reluctant. My friends encouraged me because it was natural here.
Rudolf was home for the holidays from the university in Bavaria. He was studying to become a lawyer because his father was a lawyer. In my short time in France, I learned that children usually followed in the footsteps of their fathers' line of work or career. I enjoyed the few dances I had with him and we became friends. Rudolf asked me out to dinner a few evenings later. The restaurant was elegant with white damask tablecloths, crystal, silverware and beautiful china. However, what I fell in love with was the tall-decorated tree shining in its glory with live candles. We had never used live candles on our trees while I was growing up and this experience enchanted me. Candles were in use on Christmas trees for several hundred years and I now realize I was able to see one before the Germans switched to electrical lights. As we left the restaurant and he drove me back to the apartment where I was staying, I felt like I had been in another time and another place with the beautiful white snow laying its mantle over the countryside.
I remember when my love affair with the Christmas tree first began. Way back when…let's see…I was about 4 years old and we were deep into the Great Depression and living in Dallas, Texas the place of my birth. My sister was 5 years older than I was and my younger brother was in the incubator of my mother's tummy. It was Christmas and my father was out of work. Fortunately, we lived near his family who subsidized us. My sister and I were the only grandchildren and nieces on my father's side. Mother's family lived mostly in Missouri and financially helped too. This will give you some of idea of my life at that time.
I remember we had a Christmas tree decorated with ornaments that were most beautiful. When my mother's father passed, she was given the family Christmas ornaments when her mother sold the farm in Missouri and began living with her three daughters. Our tradition was to open the gifts on Christmas morning. There was always a long stocking filled with an apple—big, red and shiny along with an orange, nuts and Hershey's Kisses. Somehow, this year these goodies made it into our stockings. The only gift I remember Santa leaving under the tree was a small set of tea party dishes. From one of our relatives I received an identical set and so did my sister.
Living next door to us was a family of five children. As I recall, there were two young girls. Financially, the family was in even more dire straits than my family. My mother suggested to my sister and I to take our extra sets of dishes over to the girls next door. Timidly my sister knocked on the door and we were invited inside. We gave the girls our gifts and a most wondrous sight was beholding to my young eyes. In the living room was a floor to ceiling Christmas tree that the children had decorated entirely with fluffs of cotton to look like snowflakes and popcorn strung on strings. I stood there in awe and fell in love with the Christmas tree. It was magic. This was the beginning of my love for the Christmas tree.
As an afterword, I later learned that the father of that family had waited until Christmas Eve when stores were throwing leftover trees out. He was able to salvage this tree for free. I have had many decorated trees for Christmas and loved the trees more than the gifts placed under them. Decorating the tree became an act of love for me. I now purchase my trees from Christmas tree farms because I know that these trees know their purpose is to be a gaily-decorated Christmas tree.
It was years later when I learned the true meaning of Christmas and the Christmas tree. Later I wrote a small novelette in fiction form titled A Christmas Awakening as a gift of love to the Christmas tree and to the world.