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What came first, the tree or the gifts? What you may not know about the origin of these Christmas traditions


There are records that by the fourth century the birth of Jesus was already celebrated. However, many centuries would have to wait for the Christmas tree to become a tradition.

Heading to Christmas Eve, the most beautiful Christmas trees in the world 1:23

(CNN Spanish) --

When you decorate the Christmas tree, perhaps you remember with nostalgia the illusion that this ritual gave you when you were little and you think of the generations and generations and generations that prepared like this to celebrate this key date in the Christian calendar.

Although it may not be as many generations as you imagine: the tradition dates back to the Middle Ages, but it spread massively, especially from the 20th century.

The custom of giving gifts, in fact, precedes it.

Since when do we decorate the Christmas tree?

The first records of the celebration of Christmas date back to the fourth century after Christ —a key century for the history of Christianity, since it was when the Roman Empire officially converted to that religion.

In that period, people "began to discuss the origin and humanity of Jesus, and then it began to be important not only to celebrate death and crucifixion, but also birth," Lorena Pérez Yarza, a professor, explained to CNN en Español. of History of Religions at the Carlos III University and postdoctoral researcher.

However, by then there was no sign of the Christmas tree.

For the emergence of this Christian tradition, we would have to wait for the empire of Charlemagne, already in the Middle Ages.

"When Charlemagne (in the 7th century) conquered northern Italy, a large part of present-day Germany, southern France, northern Spain, etc., one of the great confrontations he had was with the Saxon and Phoenician peoples" Perez explained.

These towns had their own traditions, for example the cult of the deity Frey, and these included the decoration of trees.

Engraving depicting Charlemagne on horseback as the Saxon leader Widukind surrenders to him at Paderborn, Germany.

(Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images)

"It is believed that due to the cultural miscegenation that exists during the Middle Ages, this festivity is imported into Christianity," Pérez continued, although the transfer was not "automatic."


In Germany, the tradition of decorating the tree also had another link: the cult of the tree of life, the Yggdrasill, a giant ash tree that in Norse mythology supported the universe with three roots that extended to the underworld, the land of giants and that of the gods

(The story of the Christians themselves about the origin of the Christmas tree is led by Saint Boniface, evangelizer of the region of Germany and England, who according to tradition cut down a tree dedicated to the god Odin of Norse mythology and planted a tree in its place. pine, "symbol of God's perennial love", as explained by the Catholic Information Agency)

And where do the gifts come from?

Over time, from the 18th century onwards but mainly in the 20th, the decorated tree spread "progressively" to the entire Christian world.

"There were practically no trees until the 20th century," Pérez explained, contrary to what can be believed.

"With the cultural expansion of the 19th century and especially with the mass media of the 20th century, countries that did not have a Christmas tree incorporated it", he summarized.

Curiously, the tradition of giving gifts predates that of decorating the tree and celebrating the arrival of Santa Claus.

In fact, it comes from a pagan festival of the Roman Empire that was celebrated until December 23 and included those present as part of its rituals: the Saturnalia, dedicated to the god Saturn, the most popular of the Roman festivals.

Christmas treeChristmas

Source: cnnespanol

All news articles on 2022-12-16

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