There's no better celebration of any season than the decorated tree adorned with the rich symbolism of nature—my ritual to inform and inspire you in the journey called life.

Friday, September 11, 2009

tree of light

IMAGINING the first holiday tree, it must have been the lighted ones that really touched the primal spirit of our collective psyche. Like the first magical fire that danced in front of man's eyes, the addition of light brought the sparkle and wonder alive. There is no doubt that the decorated tree has become one of the most beloved and well-known symbols of life during the holidays.

AN ANCIENT custom, the decorated tree has played an important part of winter celebrations for centuries. Whether it was the Pagans honoring the spirit of nature with festivals incorporating decorated trees; the Vikings believing that the cold darkness of winter would end with the light of spring returning, as long as there was an evergreen around; the Druids of ancient England and France using fruit and candles to decorate oak trees—honoring the gods of harvest; or the Romans celebrating Saturnalia by arranging trinkets and candles on trees—the ritual of decorating a tree is stored deeply into the collective consciousness of our holiday celebrations.

IF  IT WAS the patron Saint of Germany, Saint Boniface chopping down the Oak of Thor in a stage-managed confrontation with the old gods and "heathen" tribes—and claiming the small fir tree growing up in the roots of this oak as a new symbol of Christianity; the initiator of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther being inspired to light an evergreen with candles to illustrate to his family, the twinkling of stars through the fir trees at night; or the German Christians adopting the evergreen indoors during the new Christian holiday, the decorated tree is a ritual that represents an inspired collective of ideas and beliefs.

THE TRADITION spread throughout Europe, culminating in the first real media attention for the custom when engravings of Prince Albert, who was German, along with his wife Queen Victoria decorated the first Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in 1841 and it was written up in the London Times replete with an engraving (see below for a later illustration in color). They decorated their famous tree with candies, gingerbread, fruits, nuts and candles to their children's delight.

GERMAN IMMIGRANTS came to America in the 1830's, bringing Christmas ornaments with them. Most Americans still considered the Christmas tree a heretical symbol of Paganism. One of the first public displays of a Christmas tree was set up by German settlers in Pennsylvania. But it wasn't until the late 1800's that Americans began adopting the irresistible custom of the Christmas tree.

EVEN  IF none of these legends are entirely true, the origin of the decorated tree in modern times has many connections to Germany where the first glass ornaments—humble representations of evergreen pine cones were made. Even in parts of Germany where evergreen trees were scarce, families would build a Christmas pyramid—a simple tiered structure decorated with branches and candles. Pagan or Christian, the act of decorating a tree, for whatever reason, resonates with most of the world's population. 

CHRISTMAS  TREES were then decorated with nuts, apples, cookies, strung and colored popcorn, and candles while European ornament collections were begun. Electricity brought strung-together lights in the early 20th century. The idea of  the lighted tree spread as quickly as electricity and Christmas trees became a household fixture during the holidays. And in communities across the globe large outdoor displays of holiday trees and lights have been adopted over the years—the world lighting up with the magic of the winter season.

ON  THIS  ELEVENTH day of September, we in America still have a lot of candles to light and a lot of thoughts and prayers to be answered, either by God or by our own actions. And it's not lost on me, but my eleventh blog follower, after resistance to the chaos he finds in my life, has finally realized that this blog is my way of digging through  the rubble of a passion to collect and making something of it. Thank you Mr. Jon Chavez for being patient with me and being the brightest light in my life. The number eleven has truly become significant for me (a time prompt from spirit guardians or not). I'm making a wish before I extinguish any flames. 

SPARKLE AND LIGHT | Pine cones—long symbols of fertility and even eternal life—were some of the first German glass ornaments made for use on the holiday tree. I gathered my collection to decorate the most perfectly-shaped fir tree I could find (photos above). Simply adorned with a widely-varied, but singular collection of old and new pine cone decorations, this tree evokes a timeless historical elegance. It is draped with an antiqued tinsel garland from Bethany Lowe Designs (above, right). The candles held atop the trees branches in metal pine cone-shaped clips from Germany create a beautiful flickering warm light unparalleled by modern electric lights. The lighting of the tree became an occasion that year (2007) and was a pure celebration of the origin(s) of the decorated tree. The finial glass tree topper was made for the brilliant Thomas O'Brien retromodern ornament collection for Target several years ago.
collecting and styling by Darryl Moland, photography by Jon Rou

HISTORY AND MYSTERY | In these two illustrations, Martin Luther is shown to be one of the first to place candles on the branches of the evergreen tree brought inside (above, left) and the English monarchy that was Victoria and Albert are credited for popularizing the decorated tree in 1841 (above, right).

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