May 4, 2022
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The tradition of decorating a Christmas tree

With each century, the globalization of traditions becomes apparent, which confidently walk from people to people. That is why the holidays are becoming massive, and more and more people from different parts of the world are picking up customs and their attributes. One of the most widespread and persistent was the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree for Christmas and New Year. But when choosing Christmas decorations, few people know where this custom came from and what decorations symbolize. And this interesting information can come in handy as an interesting story for a holiday script or as questions for competitions at the festive table.

The tradition of decorating a Christmas tree

tree in the house

Ancient people treated trees with special trepidation. The pagans believed that these were deities who could favor or punish, influence fate. It is not surprising that rituals were performed right next to them.

If we move away from the usual point of view and look at the round dance around the Christmas tree, it will immediately become clear that such ritual chants and dances around the tree have only slightly transformed, but outwardly they have hardly changed shape.

It was believed that with the help of trees of a certain type, one can receive patronage, protection and pacify evil spirits. Therefore, the desire to keep such a talisman close to oneself is easily explained. Putting it in a dwelling means providing a round-the-clock guard from unclean forces.

Christmas tree in the house

Why conifers?

Evergreens looked unusual against the background of deciduous species, because they remained green all year. Therefore, among the rest of the trees, they were held in special esteem by the man. It was believed that they are the favorites of the sun god, who gives them permission not to throw off the greens. It was around them that rituals were performed on the day of the winter equinox, so that the light would soon bring spring.

Conifers in the eyes of ancient people personified immortality, eternal life, perseverance and infinity.

“Now she’s green”

Why spruce? The fact is that it is not as thick and voluminous as most other conifers, so it took up less space in the home. At a time when heat was maintained by a fire or fireplace, this was an important factor. The needles flare up quickly, and then it is difficult to extinguish it, so the moderate coniferous cover played into the hands in terms of safety. At least, experts suggest that the choice fell on this breed of conifers precisely for this reason.

Christmas tree

Spruce walks the planet

Traditions with trees or branches, dedicated to the winter holidays, existed among different peoples.

Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome in the VIII century BC. It was customary to hang spruce branches on the ceiling. This was done in honor of Saturn, who favored a good harvest, and at the same time drove evil spirits out of the home.

In the 1st century BC. Christianity has already emerged, but has not yet been so popular. The Romans celebrated the Day of the Sun on December 25th. At that moment, spruce branches were just hanging in the houses. With the spread of the Christian religion, this date smoothly transformed into the birthday of Christ, and elegant conifers remained an attribute of the celebration.

biblical roots

According to the Bible, when the Lord entered Jerusalem, the people greeted him, waving palm branches. This happened not at Christmas, but after the resurrection of Jesus. And these branches have become a symbol of immortality, an endless cycle. With the spread of Christianity, this faith reached colder countries where southern trees do not grow. Therefore, palm trees in religious narratives were replaced with something more familiar with narrow, thin ends of branches – spruce.


The ancient Germans had a custom to come to the highest coniferous tree in the forest and perform ritual rites next to it in the form of songs and dances. And although it is very fun, no one wanted to freeze. Therefore, over time, the conifer migrated into the room. But he did not stand on the floor, but on the table. Presumably, the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree for the New Year was established in Germany at the beginning of the 17th century. If before that they brought small sprouts, then from that moment its dimensions became larger, and the “place of residence” in the house moved to the floor. And only since the 19th century, in the largest cities of Germany, they began to decorate Christmas trees right on the central squares, where people flocked from all over the area.

Christmas tree on the square

The second was picked up by such a “Christmas tree” innovation, stiff England. It happened thanks to the wife of Queen Victoria. He was a native of Germany, and was very sad for the beautiful Christmas tradition, beloved since childhood. In 1841, he persuaded his wife and her family to put a fir tree in the palace to quench their nostalgia. The courtiers quickly intercepted this idea, and after a few years in rich houses they competed in the height and beauty of Christmas trees. In those days, there was no central heating, and the needles stayed on the branches for a very long time, did not turn yellow and did not crumble. The joke that the henpecked tree throws out the spruce on March 8 was not a joke at all at that time: the festive decoration of the room could easily stand until the real spring warmth was established on the street. We should not forget about the disinfecting properties of the essential oils of conifers, which came in handy throughout the winter season and stopped infectious diseases.

There were enough forests at that time, so soon the poor decided to join the fun of the rich. At the end of the 19th century, a festive tree could be seen in almost every English home. At the same time, there was a threat of cutting down coniferous forests. To prevent this problem, Germany began producing artificial Christmas trees that could be dressed up in the same way as natural ones. For many decades this country remained the largest producer of such goods.

Then the tradition spread throughout Europe, across the ocean thanks to mass migrations and travelers on ships. It is easy to guess that now the palm for the manufacture of Christmas trees and toys is intercepted by China.

In Russia

Historians know exactly where and how the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree came to Russia. This has happened since 1700. Peter I issued a decree on the transition to a new Christian chronology. In this regard, the New Year now came not on September 1, as it had been done for a long time, but on January 1. The people were not delighted with such an innovation, it seemed to people that they were trampling on the old foundations and customs of their ancestors. But an innovation helped to make the “pill sweeter” – “make some decorations from trees and branches of pine and juniper … on a tree or branch on a gate or over a temple [домом] put his own … ”(excerpt from Peter’s decree).

New Year tree in Russia

While Peter was alive, the tradition was followed, but after his death, ordinary people for the most part abandoned the overseas innovation. But it was preserved at the taverns: it was by the Christmas tree, set up for the New Year, that the travelers identified this institution. Moreover, the “pointer” was updated only once a year, before January 1.

For several decades, the tradition gained momentum again, but at the beginning of the 19th century, World War I took place. The Germans in it were opponents of Russia, so Nicholas II declared this custom “enemy”. The ban was maintained until the Bolsheviks came to power after the revolution. For almost 10 years, workers and peasants enjoyed this format of the New Year, but in the end, the Soviet government decided that it was “bourgeois” and once again outlawed New Year trees.

Fortunately, in 1938 the custom was rehabilitated. From that moment on, matinees and holidays could not do without an elegant tree. Since 1976, the largest and most beautiful Christmas tree in the country has been installed in the Kremlin, and getting on it is the dream of many children. It is dressed up by the best designers, and outstanding teams are involved in the program.


The story of where the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree came from is also interesting. It was customary for some peoples to cling artificial or dry flowers to it in order to thereby call for spring and awakening in nature. Others believed that the crown of the tree was inhabited by spirits that needed to be appeased. Sacrifices were placed on branches, tied with ropes.

That is why the first decorations were edible. Of course, preference was given to products that did not spoil. It could be fruit or pastries. In Russia, it was a sign of prosperity to invite the children of relatives or friends to treat themselves to decorations. Every year such “outfits” were new. And only over time, food was replaced with toys, although at first they were also in the form of fruits, buns and sweets.

What do toys mean

It is noteworthy that most Christmas decorations have their own meaning and history. It is very interesting to tell the children about this when it comes time to decorate the Christmas tree with the whole family.


The star on the crown symbolized the Star of Bethlehem, which appeared in the sky at the time of the birth of Christ. It was by this sign that the Magi found the place where Mary was. It is worth noting that religious moments were rejected in the USSR, so Bethlehem was out of the question during the preparation of New Year’s decorations. But a compromise solution was found: the Christian symbol was replaced with the red rays of the Kremlin star.

star on the tree


These Christmas decorations also came from Christianity. They were reminiscent of the Tree of Knowledge and the forbidden fruit that Eve gave to Adam. Later, nuts, sweets, etc. were added to them. Such edible toys could be eaten, as during communion in church.


Now there are electric garlands, but earlier their function was performed by ordinary candles. It was very dangerous, since the fire, when a candle fell on the Christmas tree, started rapidly, and it was difficult to put it out. This tradition was quickly replaced by a safer one shortly after the spread of electricity. And Christmas tree candles went from the custom of some peoples to burn a Christmas tree or log. The lights reminded of the ritual sacrifice to the gods, so this tradition has pagan roots. Later, candles became associated with Christmas angels.

glass toys

For the first time they began to be made in Germany at the beginning of the 18th century, and by the end of the century these decorations had become extremely popular. From Germany they were exported to all European countries.

In Russia, the situation with Christmas decorations is even more interesting. By their changes, you can clearly track what happened throughout the country. The first decoration under Peter, as in most countries, was fruits and sweets, and at the top was the Star of Bethlehem. After World War I, horsemen, soldiers and Red Army soldiers became popular in parallel with the red star, as in Budyonovka.

Christmas toys

During the Second World War and in the difficult post-war years, the role of Christmas decorations was performed by ordinary burned-out light bulbs. If it was possible to find paints, then they could decorate them before dressing up the branches. In the early 1960s, astronauts, rockets and clocks, on which the hands indicate five minutes to twelve (the launch time of the Vostok-1 spacecraft), became the main theme of toys.

Later, beautiful large Christmas tree balls made in the GDR came into fashion, for which queues traditionally lined up. Then the peak-icicle to the top became popular. Now craft toys that are made independently in the family circle are more valued. We can say that this is a new wonderful tradition of decorating the Christmas tree, which gathers the whole family for needlework on the eve of the holiday.

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