The Spiritual Need for Greenery in Winter
In the dark days of winter, since ancient times, humans have felt the need to bring greenery into their homes. Today we have Christmas trees, wreaths, garlands, Hanukah bushes, and scores of houseplants, but many religions have embraced this spiritual need as part of their winter and solstice traditions as well as venerating trees throughout the year as a divine symbol that connects Heaven and Earth.
Ancient Egyptians carved "tree of life" motifs into temple walls and similar bronze sculptures were created in China as early as the second millennium BC. The Pagan tradition has a rich connection with divine trees and sacred groves. On the solstice, early Pagans burned yule logs made from oak to invite protection and fertility, and the Hopi of the Southwest enhanced their solstice rituals with prayer sticks embellished with pine needles. The Roman celebration of Saturnalia, a solstice festival in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture, included bringing boughs of holly -- Saturn's sacred symbol -- into the home. This practice in particular led the early Christian church fathers to ban solstice greenery practices in 572 AD.
It wasn't until the Middle Ages that evergreens officially became part of the Christian tradition -- as props in mystery plays in Germany performed on Christmas Eve, the feast day of Adam and Eve. They represented the trees in the Garden of Eden and were decorated with Eucharist wafers. These "paradise trees" didn't spread beyond northern Europe until the year 1800, when Queen Charlotte, the German-born wife of George III, had a Christmas tree put up at Windsor Castle. With that, the "Christmas tree" tradition was officially born.
You can learn more about the Pagan roots of Christmas trees and other Pagan Christmas traditions in our full-color illustrated book, Pagan Christmas by Christian Ratsch and Claudia Muller-Ebeling. And as you enjoy your own Christmas tree, Hanukah bush, boughs of holly, or simply the snow-covered evergreens on a hillside, you can also enjoy knowing that this spiritual need for greenery in winter goes beyond Christianity. It helps us remember the green of summer, rekindle our connection with the Earth, and celebrate the rebirth of the Sun and the return of longer days.
Happy holidays from all of us at Inner Traditions, Bear & Company, Findhorn Press, and our other wonderful imprints!