Symbolic Meaning of the Christmas Tree.
We had live Christmas trees at my house when I was a kid. Mom sat at the fireplace and gently brought out all the decorations for the tree. She'd dole out the ornaments to my sister and to me. We'd eagerly grab the baubles and run back to the tree to hang them on our branch of choice. To which, my mom inevitably responded: "NO! Not there! You don't hang an ornament from the garland!" Or, "NO! Not that branch! You're blocking the view of the Christmas lights in that spot!" Ah, yes. Mom was, and still is a stickler for the aesthetics of things. Not a thing out of place. I love her for that. Her attention to detail assured a fabulous Christmas tree. Truly, our trees looked the bombadiggitiest every year. And I thank mom to this day for teaching me how to deck a Christmas tree properly. LOL.
When it comes to the symbolic meaning of the Christmas tree, I'm not sure I can say it better than this:
"Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging
Not only green when summer's here,
But also when it's cold and drear.
Such pleasure do you bring me!
For every year this Christmas tree,
Brings to us such joy and glee.
A symbol of goodwill and love
Each shining light
Each silver bell
No one alive spreads cheer so well
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
You'll ever be unchanging."
Yep - that pretty much sums up the symbolic meaning of the Christmas tree. Guess I can pack up this post now and say so-long. Just kidding. :) There's tons more tree treats to be symbolically savored!
This song (shortened by taking out the "Oh Christmas Tree" chorus lines), was written by Ernst Anschutz in 1820s. Originally written in German, Oh Tannenbaum doesn't really refer to a Christmas tree per se. Tannenbaum means 'fir tree' in German.
The fir tree is one of the most common live trees we haul inside for the holiday. Pine and spruce trees are also popular picks. Whether spruce, cedar, pine or fir - all Christmas trees have one thing in common...they're all evergreens.
Have you ever wished the noble, ebullient feeling of Christmas could last all year long? Those feelings are everlasting via evergreens. That's a huge slice of the symbolic pie surrounding Christmas trees. Why? Because evergreens are symbolic of permanence. This theme of immortality and constancy is born from these trees remaining evergreen all year round.
Most of these symbolic attributes point directly to the evergreen's ability to keep its crisp, viridian color all year. The fragrance of evergreens is also a symbolic salute. Science has proven the aroma of pine, fir and cedar is both relaxing and invigorating. Native Americans of North America knew this. For example, the Ojibwas used the essence of pine to revive members of the tribe from unconsciousness or disorientation. The symbolism of healing is also a nod to Native Americans, who used balsam needles in sweat lodges to alleviate colds and coughs. Across the pond, Northern Europeans laid evergreen branches on pillows to prevent nightmares. And if hung over a barn door, an evergreen bough was reputed to thwart off evil spirits.
Evergreens aren't just for Christmas. Consider the ancient Celts. Very often, they planted a pine cone at the site of important resting places as a funerary marker. Celts, particularly Druids, held the fir as a symbol for everlasting life. They observed how this tree kept its emerald glory all year, how hardy it was, and also witnessed how long the tree lived. All of these observations made the fir a perfect planting to honor and respect tribal members who had passed into non-physical.
Greeks: The pine tree was sacred to Attis, the Greek god of flora - the plant world. Pine was also sacred Cybel, the earth goddess. In this tradition, Greeks would decorate pine trees with silver adornments and bells. Offerings were placed under the tree as sacrifices to these deities.
Romans: Evergreen trees held big solar symbolism. These trees were a testimony of power and everlasting light to the Romans. During the festival of Saturnalia, Romans decorated evergreens to commemorate the birth of a new year. Saturnalia takes place during the winter solstice. The passing of the solstice marks a time when the days start to get a wee bit longer - a promise of Spring's return. Hence the symbolism of eternal light - the light of the sun returning to the land.
Teutonic (Celtic): Firs and pines were adorned with gold offerings such as torcs and pieces of jewelry. The idea here is to pay tribute to the deities of life, to assure good harvest, big conquests, and establish continuation of the tribes.
Christian: The symbolic meaning of the Christmas tree is perhaps best associated with the birth and resurrection of Christ. There are many theories about how exactly the tree got this connection to Christianity. One such theory is from St. Boniface, an eighth-century Christian missionary. He established the fir as a sacred tree amongst Druidic Germans. He cited how the wood of the fir was a wood of peace. He also pointed out how the evergreen was a symbol of everlasting life - something Christ promises to all people. St. Boniface also observed how the fir, so strong and erect, pointed to heaven, and deemed it the tree of the Christ child. Decorations, especially lights upon the tree were symbolic of every soul saved by Christ.
Norse: The Yggdrasill is often associated with the Christmas tree. This is the tree of life in Norse ideology. Some accounts of this honorable tree tell of lights in the form of candles placed upon the tree branches during the winter solstice. Each light is said to symbolize the sun, moon and stars.
Japan and China: Pine and cypress are sacred trees with symbolism of immortality and longevity. In fact, the wood from these trees is used to build holy structures upon consecrated ground. Temples, altars, city entrance gates and Shinto Kami structures were built from these evergreens. In this tradition, the pine and cypress possess the force of life. Thus, their life-giving energy was powerfully felt at these holy structures.
Whatever belief you subscribe to, one constant about symbolic meaning of the Christmas tree stands out: This is a tree worthy of the celebration of life. Bold, noble, strong and evergreen...these trees are perfect symbols of the elegance and joy felt this time of year.
May all your Christmas trees be meaningful and filled with hope,
An Important Note About Signs, Symbols and Their Meanings
Signs and symbols cultivate their meanings according to culture, context, passage of time in society as well as mass societal opinion. What's cool and highly important is that signs and symbols earn their most powerful meanings from our own personal perspectives.
This website strives to provide you with the best, time-honored information when defining signs and symbols. However, in the final analysis, "Beauty (and symbolism) is in the eye of the beholder."
Having said that, it's in our best interest to invest the time to do personal research on symbolic events happening to us. This website is just one perspective in an ocean of variety and diversity in the realm of symbolism. So dive in! There is a whole universe of deeper meanings to explore! You can start your research by clicking on the links at the end or to the side of this page. Odds are good I've got a follow-up article about this symbolic topic. ;)
As always, thanks for your willingness to learn more about the language of symbolism. It's a language that is universal and everywhere. It's super-groovy to travel with you on your symbolic path, and maybe offer a little translation along the way. Thanks for reading and exploring!