What do you and your family do for Christmas? Maybe you meet with a group of friends and do Advent to prepare your hearts for the coming of Jesus. Or maybe you decorate the tree as a family every year. Or maybe you sing Christmas hymns together.
Whatever your family traditions are, have you ever wondered where they came from? Of course, the more specific traditions probably came from your family, but what about the Christmas tree, wreaths, or stockings? Where did all of these traditions come from?
The History of the Christmas Tree
In ancient times, evergreens were used in winter festivals to symbolize life.
There are several legends of where the Christmas tree came from. One of the theories is that it started with a monk in the seventh century. A monk from Devonshire visited Germany to spread Christianity. To explain the idea of the Trinity, it’s believed that he used the triangular shape of an evergreen tree to describe the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The people who converted to Christianity considered this tree to be God’s tree. By the twelfth century, people were hanging trees upside down in homes during Christmas as a symbol of Christianity.
Martin Luther was the first person to decorate the tree by using candles. It’s believed that on a walk in the winter, Luther was drawn to the stars twinkling above a forest of evergreen trees. To share this awe-inspiring moment with his family, he put a tree in his home and added candles.
Up until the mid-1800s, Christmas trees were a predominantly German tradition. In 1846, Queen Victoria and her German husband, Prince Albert, were seen with a Christmas tree. After it was popularized in England, it eventually came to the U.S. In 1856, President Pierce brought the first Christmas tree to the White House. And, in 1923, the first national tree was lit by President Coolidge (Feix, et al., 44).
The History of Christmas Caroling
Singing Christmas songs has been a tradition for so long, but where did it come from?
Caroling didn’t always involve Christmas. Many carols come from Medieval times and served as a way to wish friends and neighbors good health.
Medieval carols were liturgical songs reserved for processionals in the 12th and 13th centuries. The tradition of what we know as Christmas caroling - singing and visiting other homes - emerged in Victorian England. In the 19th century, as Christmas became more commercialized, songbooks were created for Christmas caroling.
The History of the Advent Wreath
In ancient times across different cultures, many people have celebrated the winter solstice with a wheel lit with four candles symbolizing the return of longer days (Feix, et al., 22).
A Protestant pastor in Germany named Johann Hinrich Wichern ran the “Rauhe Haus” in Hamburg which was an orphanage. Every year, the children would ask him, “When is Christmas?” In 1839, Wichern built the first Advent wreath out of an old cartwheel to help the children count the days until Christmas. He added small candles to the wreath for every day other than Sunday and added big white candles for every Sunday until Christmas.
Now, our wreaths symbolize the never-ending love of God, the four Sundays of Advent with four candles, eternal life with the evergreen, and Jesus who is the light of the world with the lit candles (Feix, et al., 22).
Creating Your Christmas Traditions
Maybe you have a lot of Christmas traditions, or maybe you don’t. During the first four weeks leading up to Christmas in December, many families and friends gather together to practice Advent to prepare their hearts for the coming of Jesus. As you and your family celebrate Christmas with your holiday traditions, you can add this to your list of traditions.
So We Speak has recently published a very special Advent booklet called, Advent: Preparing for the Arrival of the Savior, to help you and the people in your life create intentional time to focus on the true meaning of Christmas.
Whether you adapt this booklet for a small group, children’s ministry, your personal devotions, or any other group, you’ll find yourself celebrating the gift of the Savior throughout the Christmas season this year.
We can’t wait to see how the Lord uses it in your lives.
Feix, Terry, et al. Advent: Preparing for the Arrival of the Savior. So We Speak, 2023.
Kali Gibson is the editor-in-chief for So We Speak and a copywriter for the Youversion Bible App.