The History in Your Tree

For many of us, the Tree kicks off the Christmas Season, signalizing the end of Thanksgiving and preparing us for one of the two main Christian celebrations. Over the years, setting one up becomes an almost habitual part of the Holidays, but when taking a closer look, our Tree holds more meaning than you would suspect at first thought: starting from our personal history to the memories and feelings it holds.

Where Does the Tree Come From?

Of pagan origin, it can be traced back to 16th-century Germany. Evergreen trees and wreaths symbolized eternal life and were believed to keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. German Protestant reformer Martin Luther is said to have been the first one who lit candles on a tree.

In the United States, the first trees are traced back to German settlements in Pennsylvania around 1800. Having been raised in Switzerland by German parents and having lived in North America for almost two decades, I have observed a variety of Christmas trees and traditions associated with them. And they all have something in common: a personal story.

Reminiscing and Décor

Every year, setting up your Tree brings back past images and sentiments: each decoration has a memory attached to it, whether it is of the time you received it, of the place you purchased it or of a past Holiday mood. Our emotions vary from joy to nostalgia, to bitter-sweet, to let’s-forget-about-that – an indication that the item might not make it to next year.

Some of my favorite Christmases were spent with my sister, the two of us alone, celebrating a simple and stress-free festivity, having fondue right beside our Tree. She would visit every year and bring me a new, small set of ornaments. I still have all of them.

Having visited and lived in a variety of places, I also decided to collect ornaments from different locations with their own story: the Tannenbaum from a Viennese Christmas market, the painted okra-Santa from the Georgia Mountains, the scarf-wearing moose holding a lobster straight out of Maine, alongside the hand-made angels from Kenya. All live in harmony in our real tree, a fragrant, 6-foot pine grown on North American land.

Several embellishments are a reminder of our children’s growing up: the preschool years were the most productive ones and an array of paper angels and other Holiday symbols bring back sweet memories. The handmade ornament production ceased later in grade school when buying them at the school’s Holiday market was the alternative.

To complete the circle, I brought back ornaments from my childhood Christmases that remind me of chilly snow days in the Swiss Alps. This might sound very idyllic, but a white mountain Holiday can have just as much drama attached to it as any other. And ours were not spared from it, with events and interactions that stay buried under past trees.

What stories rest in your rituals and decorations of this Season? We always love to hear from you.

May this Holiday time and the year ahead be filled with harmony, peace and good health for you! And may you enjoy your festivity’s décor.