Origin of Christmas Decoration Traditions

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Where do some of our Christmas Decoration Traditions come from?

Christmas Ornaments Christmas Decoration TraditionsOur Christmas Decoration Traditions have some interesting origins. Did you know that if you were a Roman lady you would probably have worn a wreath on your head, not your door?  Did you know that in centuries past you would have decorated your Christmas tree with actual lighted candles? Or that many of our Christmas traditions have pagan roots?

Strange as it may sound, it’s true.  Many of our decorating and celebration traditions have connections and origins we’re not aware of.  Most of us understand that Christmas is a celebration of when Jesus was born on earth – God born as a man – coming to the world to save men.  In times past, however, this message wasn’t as universally known and the church of the time decided to work with the popular celebrations of the time in order to win people over to Christianity.

They realized that if they asked people to give up their popular celebrations and rituals and adopt a religion with very little ritual, they might have a struggle on their hands.  History tells us that Jesus was actually born some time in October, but the medieval church decided that the celebration of Christ’s birth – Christmas should be held to coincide more closely with the Winter Solstice, a key celebration of ancient pagans.  In this way, they felt they’d be able to shift the focus from the pagan beliefs to God instead.

Christmas Wreath Christmas Decoration TraditionsFor instance, the ever popular Christmas wreath, one of our most popular Christmas Decoration Traditions, has its origins in Roman history.

The word ‘wreath’ is derived from the old English word ‘writhen’ meaning ‘writhe’ or ’twist’, but the tradition itself comes from the Romans who hung laurel wreaths on their doors as a sign of victory. Greeks and Romans wore laurel wreaths around their necks as an accolade for some great achievement, while Roman women wore them on their heads during special occasions.

The Christmas tree has it’s origins in ancient times in northern countries where evergreen boughs and trees were brought inside or used to line windows to remind the people that life still remained although the world was covered in snow.

Later in medieval Germany, people brought pine or fir trees inside and decorated them with apples to remind them of the reason that Jesus had come: namely Adam and Eve’s eating of the apple in the Garden of Eden. It was also felt to symbolize everlasting life, and some felt that the triangular shape represented the Holy Trinity.

IngeGlas Christams Ornaments at Tanglebank Christmas Decoration TraditionsThe Christmas Tree tradition really took off when Queen Victoria sanctioned it in 1848 by encouraging her beloved Albert to decorate a Christmas tree in the way he’d done as a child.  The London Illustrated News and the rest, as they say, is history!

Soon after that, German artisans began to create beautiful glass ornaments which were hung to decorate the tree instead of the edible ornaments previously used.  We actually have some wonderful German ornaments (IngeGlas) in store right now if you’d like to decorate your tree with this age old beautiful tradition.

It wasn’t long before Thomas Edison and his partner had invented electric tree lights – a lot safer than the lit candles used in Europe!

However, the adoption of pagan rituals and traditions was not universally accepted by all Christians and during the 1600’s, Oliver Cromwell preached against the ‘heathen traditions’ while the general court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any rituals other than a church service an offence.

As the 1800’s dawned, Irish and German immigrants began to move in greater numbers to the ‘new world’ bringing their Christmas traditions with them.  Once the Christmas tree, so beloved of the Germans was sanctioned by the English monarch, it was difficult to keep it out of American celebrations.  Typically, the Americans decided to go one better than their European forebears who’d used small trees around 4’ high.  Americans decided they liked floor to ceiling trees and we know that this is still a popular size today.

deciduous holly Christmas Decoration TraditionsHolly is another favorite Christmas green and it also has its roots in times past.  In England, it was believed that Holly was a male plant and Ivy (also a popular Christmas green) was female.  Whichever was brought into the house first would determine if the husband or wife would rule the house during the coming year.  Of course, we now know that Holly comes in both male and female varieties and that you need both for the female plant to bear those gorgeous red berries.

Holly was especially popular with Christians as a decoration as it’s thorny and is a visual reminder of Christ’s crown of thorns with it’s spikes and blood red berries.

Ivy, likewise, was felt to be appropriate to the Christian creed in that it clings to other stable things as it grows, symbolizing the Christian clinging to Christ.

If you know of any other interesting Christmas traditions, please let us know by commenting below.  We’d love to hear about them!

Here are a few more interesting articles on the topic:

2 Comments on “Origin of Christmas Decoration Traditions
  1. I have always wondered about where the tradition of the wreath at Christmas comes from and so I find it very interesting that it may have come from the Romans. I especially find that interesting considering that it represents victory. What exactly does victory have to do with Christmas?

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