What’s Sitting in Your Tree? – Holiday Décor within Cultures


This time of year, we take comfort in the traditions we grew up with and delight in creating new ones. For many, one of these traditions is decorating a tree with precious and beautiful symbols of joy and happy memories. In this way, each Christmas tree tells a cultural story. Here is the story of mine:

A Little Christmas Tree History

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 lighted candles on a tree.

In the U.S.A., the first trees are traced back to German settlements in Pennsylvania around 1800. Having been raised by German parents and having lived in the U.S.A. for almost two decades, I have observed manyChristmas tree traditions and switched among a few. I have found that the actual tree and its décor does seem to reflect a country’s culture in many instances.

The Story of My Tree

From the Germanic, thoughtfully planned and artistic ornaments illuminated by real candles in the tree (no artifacts, please!), my family has moved to electric candles (but only in the 1980’s, due to the finally acknowledged fire hazard!). No stray ornament was allowed as it would disrupt the existing, carefully arranged tree décor. After seeing the same decorations year after year, an occasional, intentional change was permitted as long as all stayed nicely coordinated.

By the time my children went to preschool, I had been living in the U.S. for a few years. I had brought all my artsy European ornaments and realized that they were insufficient for the much bigger trees in this country. But that was not too much of an issue, as I received new ornaments every holiday season: from friends who gave some plastic hanging characters to my very young children to a beautiful glass-blown globe made by my hairstylist, the list goes on.

At the same time came the numerous tree decorations crafted by my offspring, from pre-school crafts. I have my favorites and they always make our tree. But having lived in a variety of places and having most of our family residing away from our home city, I decided to collect ornaments from different locations, with their own story: the painted okra Santa from the Georgia Mountains, the moose wearing a flannel scarf and holding a lobster straight out of Maine, alongside the hand-made, black angels from Kenya. All live a harmony in our real tree, which is getting slightly smaller every year.

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