Long before people started celebrating Christmas or even the appearance of Christianity, evergreen plants and trees had a special symbolic meaning all across the Ancient World. During the winter mounts the weather was colder, the days were becoming increasingly shorter and in many cultures this could only be explained with the Sun God getting sick and becoming weaker. That is, until the Winter Solstice at the end of December. It marked the shortest day of the year and was seen as a turning point. After it the Sun would begin to get better and soon spring would appear.
Throughout Ancient Egypt this was celebrated by decorating the homes with green palm leaves in honor of the God Ra, who was responsible for the sunrise and wore the Sun on his head as a crown. The plants symbolized the triumph of life over death and the recovery of the God from his illness. Further North the Celtic druids used to hand evergreen boughs in their temples, which were similarly a sign of everlasting life. For the Vikings this was the time of Baldur, the God of light and piece and his resurrection after he was poisoned by Loki, the trickster. But by far the biggest celebrations were held in Ancient Rome with a huge feast called Saturnalia. It lasted a whole week and celebrated the God Saturn, the patron of agriculture. It was a festive time with public banquets and carnivals, where many social norms were overturned. The most remarkable of these was probably the reversal of the roles, where masters would serve dinner for their slaves, who were allowed to voice their opinion without the fear of punishment. There was also a traditional exchange of small gifts, usually of pottery or wax figurines. In the early days of Christianity, the birth of Jesus was set to the last day of Saturnalia, in an effort to make the religion more acceptable to the pagans. However, historical evidence suggests that his actual date of birth was in late summer.
The first real Christmas Trees are thought to have originated during the 16th century in Germany. In the Middle Ages it was common for Adam and Eve to be celebrated on Christmas Day with big, public plays where the Garden of Eden was symbolized using evergreens, hung with apples. However, the clergy banned these and so many brought the evergreen plants home in secret. Similar to the old pagan traditions, they would build pyramids out of wood in their homes and decorate them with evergreens, fruits and candles. According to another legend, the tradition was actually started by non-other but the leader of the Protestant Reformation – Martin Luther. The story tells how while walking home one late winter evening, he noticed how beautiful the stars looked through the trees of the forest. He wanted to share this with his family, so he cut down a fir tree, brought it home and decorated it with candles. He than declared it a symbol of the beautiful Christmas sky and so the Christmas tree was born.
As with many traditions, there are multiple stories about their origins. Another legend about the Christmas Tree revolves around St. Boniface in the 7th century. He was a Benedictine monk, tasked with spreading the Faith in Germany and laid the foundation of the German Catholic Church. It is said that he became furious with a group of pagans, who were worshiping an oak tree. He cut the tree down, but in its place spontaneously grew a fir. He then cut that tree down too, hung it upside down and used its triangular shape to explain the Holy Trinity. This became a widespread tradition in Central and Eastern Europe, symbolizing the Son of God becoming a man, as the shape resembled Christ being crucified.