by Jennifer Naze
The first Christmas trees were fir trees. Saint Boniface dedicated the fir tree as the Christian God’s tree while he was a missionary in the German region during the 700s c.e. He felt that the tree symbolized immortality because the branches stayed green and the tops of the trees pointed toward heaven. Trees were difficult to find in northern Germany at that time, so Boniface used just a few branches of the fir tree and created a Christmas pyramid to explain the Trinity to the people. Spruce trees are used instead of firs today, but the evergreen symbol stays intact regardless of the type used.
Before commercially made lights and ornaments, Christmas trees were decorated with hand crafted works of art and candles. Martin Luther is often credited with adding candles to Christmas trees in the 1600s c.e. There is a story that Martin Luther was walking home from church on a dark night around the Christmas season and looked up at the stars and saw them sparkling and was awe struck. Once he got home, he looked at his Christmas tree and the dark green branches reminded him of the dark night sky, and he thought that by adding candles they’d be the stars. Small candles were glued to tree branches with melted wax. From 1860 to 1914 a variety of fashionable candle holders were used to hold candles. In 1882 Edward Johnson lit up a tree in New York City with eighty small electric bulbs. Mr. Johnson created the first set of stringed lights, which were mass produced in 1890. By 1900 department stores were using the stringed lights in displays. At the White House President Grover Cleveland had the first electrically lit Christmas tree in 1895.
Lights on a Christmas tree are beautiful, but the real attention grabbers are the ornaments. The first glass ornaments were hand blown and came from the Thuringia and Lauscha areas of Germany. To create a hand-made treasure, the craftsman sketches a design, which is carved into a detailed mold. Then molten glass is placed into the mold, and air is blown into it to pick up all the details. From there the ornament is silvered and then hand painted. The first ornaments were in the shapes of fruits, vegetables, nuts and animals. These multidimensional works of art are treasures that families pass down through generations.
Are you curious about what other Christmas pastimes come from the German community? Then please join the Marquette Regional History Center as we present German Christmas on Saturday December 7th from 1:00pm to 3:00pm. The History Center will be celebrating with traditional German decorations, tree lighting and German holiday treats. Admission to the celebration in the Gathering Hall is free, but donations are appreciated. For more information call the History Center at (906) 226-3571