The evergreen tree which retains its needles or leaves has for centuries and in many civilizations been the symbol of “Life eternal” or “Life triumphant over death.” Fable, legend and history contain many references to man’s attempt through symbolism and celebration to pay homage to this miracle of rebirth.
In many of the pagan celebrations the evergreen played an important role in the observance of the Winter Solstice rites held around December 21st, the shortest day of the year. This marks the end of the earth’s inactivity and its rebirth as each new day grows longer. The celebration of the birth of Christ coincides in time and symbolism with man’s attempt to explain and solve the riddle of eternal life.
Egyptians decorated their homes with green palm branches in observance of the Winter Solstice. Romans placed lighted candles on trees when celebrating the Saturnalia and the Druids, in Europe, placed lighted candles on boughs in their observance of the Winter Solstice.
Legend has it that the English missionary, Winifred, urged the Druids to abstain from human sacrificial offerings to nature. He entreated them to use the beautiful evergreen fir tree in their homes and there beneath its boughs, in gentle joyousness, to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Martin Luther is reputed to have been one of the first to place lighted candles on a fir tree to honor His birth. The story goes that one Christmas Eve he was stirred by the vision of the myriad of twinkling stars which seemed to touch the majestic fir trees. In an attempt to convey the spiritual quality of the sight he cut a fir tree and set up in his home this symbol of strength and peace that comes to man through Christ. The lighted candles he placed upon the boughs represented the light which shone on the night that Christ was born.