By the time this article is published, Christmas will be one day away. One of the most iconic images that immediately makes one think of Christmas is the Christmas Tree. The influence of Pagan rites can't be debated when it comes to the Christmas Tree. The celebration of the Winter Solstice was important to many pre-Christian faiths. Traditionally, the Solstice was a celebration of the power that their Sun God had over death or illness. The God, who after three days remained low in the sky and which was interpreted as death or illness, began to rise again. Many of these faiths used evergreen plants to serve as a reminder of this victory over death and the promise of spring.
The solstice was celebrated by the Egyptians who filled their homes with green palm rushes in honor of the god Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a crown. In Northern Europe, the Celts decorated their druidic temples with evergreen boughs which signified everlasting life. The Vikings thought evergreens were the plants of Balder, the god of light and peace. The ancient Romans marked the Winter Solstice with a feast called Saturnalia thrown in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture, and, like the Celts, decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.
Historical records suggest that the Christmas tree tradition was started in the 16th century by Germans who decorated fir trees inside their homes. In some Christian cults, Adam and Eve were considered saints, and many people celebrated them during Christmas Eve.
During the 16th century, it was not rare to see huge plays being performed in open-air during Adam and Eve day, which told the story of creation. As part of the performance, the Garden of Eden was symbolized by a “paradise tree” hung with fruit. The clergy banned these heathen practices. Still, some collected evergreen branches or trees and brought them to their homes, in secret.
These evergreens were initially called ‘paradise trees’ and were often accompanied by wooden pyramids made of branches held together by rope. On these pyramids, some families would fasten and light candles, one for each family member. These were the precursors of modern Christmas tree lights and ornaments, along with edibles such as gingerbread and gold-covered apples.
However, Legend has it that the modern Christmas tree was born when Martin Luther was walking home through the woods. He was struck by the amazing beauty of starlight shining through fir trees. In wanting to share this experience with his family, Martin Luther cut down a fir tree and took it home. He placed a small candle on the branches to symbolize the Christmas sky so he could recreate the experience with his family. What is known is that by 1605, Christmas trees were a thing as, in that year, historical records suggest the inhabitants of Strasburg "set up fir trees in the parlours … and hang thereon roses cut out of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets, etc."
Over time, the tradition was spread by German settlers of North America and other parts of the world. It still wasn't wholly adopted until 1846, when Queen Victoria was sketched with her German Prince, Albert, and their children standing around a Christmas Tree. Because of the Queen's popularity and her actions being considered Fashionable, the custom quickly was seen as being such and adopted by British and East Coast American Society.
So why did I entitle my article as such? Much like the Christmas Tree, the Sprig of Acacia is a representation of immortality. In fact, we are told that the: "Acacia or Evergreen which bloomed at the head of his (Hiram Abiff's) grave and betrayed the place of interment is emblematical of the immortal part which survives the grave and bears the nearest affinity to that supreme intelligence which pervades and animates all nature, and which can never, no never, die." You can immediately see why this connection is made. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, let you be reminded of the lessons of your degrees when you look upon the Christmas trees of this holiday season. Try to practice our tenets of Brotherly Love by practicing the "Golden Rule" which is found in all religions to treat others as you would want to be treated, Practice Relief by giving generously to charity in order to help those that are less fortunate, and practice Truth with your words and actions this holiday season.
WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and a member of the Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.