Decorating Lore

Decorating Your Christmas Tree

Some Legends and Symbols of Christmas

When it comes time to decorate the tree, there's an amazing assortment of styles, themes and choices. Perhaps you have some special ornaments handed down through generations of family members. What do some of these more traditional selections mean?

The symbolism of the wreath (or a circle) has been around since the beginning of written language, and before. The wreath represents an eternal circle of life, celebration of completion of some feat or task and then death.

Wreaths or circles have historically been used for bridal headdresses, tokens of appreciation (medals, laurel crowns) and for mourning at funerals. Today, wreathes are used for additional functions: welcoming visitors, a place to hold spices. For those in the business of selling Christmas trees it is most important as a symbol of the Christian faith, God's never-ending circle of life, celebrating the birth of his son Jesus.

The material used in wreaths and holiday arrangements are also symbolic. Ivy is the symbol of God; the rose represents God's divine love; holly, the crown of thorns; evergreen is Christ's triumph over adversity; pinecones are seeds of faith sown by Christ; and mistletoe is a sign of peace.

The tree itself, with its fruit of pinecones, represents eternity: that we must always live our lives with an awareness of eternity as our final reward.

The decorated Christmas tree can be traced back to the ancient Romans who, during their winter solstice festival, decorated trees with small pieces of metal. During the Middle Ages, an evergreen, the paradise tree, was decorated with apples as a symbol of the feast of Adam and Eve held on December 24.

From Old World Christmas

How you choose to decorate your tree also holds meaning. Glass ornaments, which date back to Old World Christmas, are carefully mouth blown into a finely crafted mold. Then a hot solution of liquid silver is poured inside. Finally, the ornament is delicately hand-painted with many brightly colored lacquers.

The glass bird ornament, considered the universal symbol of happiness and joy, is regarded by many as a necessity on the Christmas tree. Glass blowers would carefully capture wild birds in autumn to keep in cages in their workshops and to shelter them during the winter months. The sound of the gas flame form the Bunsen burners used to make the glass ornaments would prompt the birds to sing throughout the day, thereby entertaining the entire family.

Since bird ornaments were difficult to create, few glassblowing families in Germany specialized in the making of these special pieces. Many collectors remember the lovely glass bird ornaments delicately perched on their grandmother's tree, which is one reason birds have continued to be among the most coveted of glass ornaments. Even today, birds represent messengers of love and the harbingers of good things to come.

The glass snowman. Long ago, when toys were scarce and the closest neighbors could be miles away, children looked forward to the year's first snowfall with great anticipation. This wonderful gift from heaven afforded them a chance to go sledding, but even more exciting, it gave them the opportunity to create a new companion: their very own snowman!

Each of the jolly fellows had a distinct expression and life expectancy. With a carrot from the pantry, coal from the furnace, twigs from the yard, an old hat and sometimes a pipe borrowed from grandfather, a child would magically build a snowman. Their man of snow would disappear when the weather warmed, but lived on in childhood memories.

The cone. Cones were natural decorations that grew on majestic fir and pine trees, so they were of course among the first molded glass ornaments produced. Cones were believed to be symbols of motherhood and fertility. An old legend surrounding cones says: "One winter's day, a poor old woman and her family went out to gather cones on the mountainside to use for fuel. Suddenly an obliging little elf appeared from under an evergreen tree and directed them to where the best cones could be found. As the baskets were filled they grew increasingly heavy until the old woman and her children could hardly carry them. But suddenly, to their delight, their burdens lightened when every cone they had selected had magically turned into silver."

Mother Nature sometimes adds her own touch of Christmas decorations, symbolic of wonderful gifts. According to various legends and lore, natural decorations are great blessings.

Nest in Christmas tree. A legend tells of the magic of all the world's birds bursting into song as if with one voice the night the Christ child was born. Your family may find a bird's nest in the Christmas tree: the gift of health, wealth and happiness throughout the year.

The Christmas spider. In Poland many Christmas eves ago, a wife and her husband went to bed with heavy hearts. They had no money for decorations for the children's Christmas tree cut from a nearby forest. But miracle of miracles: angels sent little spiders to decorate the tree. The next morning all were amazed and delighted. The tree was covered with hundreds of beautiful woven spider webs of bright shining silver and gold: the gift of Christmas miracles.

The Christmas pinecone. When Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled pursuing soldiers they took shelter beneath the branches of a pine tree, which concealed the young family with its branches as King Herod's soldiers passed. It has been said the Babe touched and blessed one of the tree's pinecones. Even today, if you very carefully cut a cone down its length, you may see the imprint of His hand: the gift of faith and shelter.