Reva Lachica Moore
The Christmas tree is one of the most popular and cherished Christmas customs in the United States as well as in other countries. Each year, 35-40 million live trees are purchased and decorated in the United States alone. And several millions of artificial trees are sold as well. But what is the origin of the Christmas tree?
I did a little research and found the following: The Christmas tree was probably first used in America about 1700 when the first wave of German immigration settled in western Pennsylvania. During the War of Independence, Hessian soldiers supposedly set up Christmas trees.
Trees have played an important role from ancient times in pagan religions, too, and were even worshipped. In pagan mythology, the evergreen tree was a symbol of the essence of life. In the earlier pagan customs, an evergreen tree was decorated in honor of their god Adonis. Heathen people in the land of Canaan worshiped a tree, calling it the Asherah.
But from where did Christians get the idea of the Christmas tree? Sheryl Ann Karas in her book, The Solstice Evergreen, has amply demonstrated that evergreens have been a symbol of rebirth from ancient times. Bringing greenery into one’s home, often at the time of the winter solstice, symbolized life in the midst of death in many cultures. And to many Christians, the Christmas tree appears to be a descendent of the Paradise tree, a fir tree that symbolized both a tree of sin and a tree of life.
Nonetheless, the selection and purchase of a Christmas tree is an annual tradition in most homes. Normally, Dad brings in the tree while the little children wait in anticipation. Or sometimes, in choose-and-cut farms, the children would go with Dad or Mom and choose the perfect tree from rows of trees ready for cutting. And to them, having the tallest, most beautiful tree in the neighborhood is quite important. In my cul de sac, the children scamper from house to house to see who has the most beautiful tree. Even in houses that prefer artificial substitutes for real trees.
Likewise, finding a perfect tree was very important to the Lewis children of Bottom Creek Hollow, a poor mining camp in West Virginia. One evening Eugene, Roger and David excitedly waited for their father to come home for it was the day Paw was bringing home the tree. At breakfast that morning the children reminded their father about it.
“Paw, I want to get the tree and cut it down. We can take the saw and ax,” seven-year-old Roger told his father.
“No, we can’t. I got to go to work. I’ll have to get it on the way back home,” Paw answered, then picked up his lunch bucket and left.
“Paw, don’t forget to get it. Get a big, tall tall one! Promise Paw? Don’t forget like when Maw sends you to the store,” Roger hollered as his father headed for the car.
Darkness had covered the snowy landscape of Bottom Creek Hollow and sitting by the window, the boys anxiously waited for their father’s car to come into view. A few cars passed by, but no Paw. It was now past bedtime and Maw, still busy in the kitchen, reminded the children to go to bed.
As soon as the boys were in bed, they heard the back door open. The wooden floor creaked from heavy footsteps. Their father came in staggering and dragging something that created a rustling noise.
“It’s Paw! He’s drunk again! But he brought the tree!” Roger whispered. “Let’s go see if he got a big tree!”
“God, please help Paw not to get drunk anymore,” Eugene being older prayed.
Maw heard the scampering from the bedroom and hollered. “Shhhhh! Get back in that bed and go to sleep! Wait ‘til in the morning!”
Early the next morning the children got up and ran straight to the spare room. They couldn’t believe their eyes! Instantly, their faces showed gloom, for in the center of the room stood the ugliest Christmas tree they’ve ever seen!
“There’s something wrong with the tree! It don’t look right!” Roger cried.
“It’s ugly!” said five-year-old David.
“It’s only got one, two, three, four, five…nine branches! And they’re all bent and twisted!” Eugene piped in.
“This is all they had,” Paw explained with a hangover tone.
Even with the children’s big disappointment, Maw didn’t want to buy another tree. She brought out the old Christmas ornaments and they all decorated the tree.
That afternoon Michael and Tommy from next door hollered from the yard. “Eugene, have you got your tree up yet? Can we see it?”
“Nope, I reckon Paw will get it tomorrow,” Eugene answered.
“But Roger said it’s already up and it looks stupid!” Michael said and laughed.
Somehow that Christmas, Paw made up for the ugly tree. On Christmas morning Eugene received his most awaited Christmas present that he had asked for for three years—a BB gun, and Roger got his wish—a watch. And Paw never got drunk again.
That was in 1959 and to this day, Eugene and Roger still remember that ugly Christmas tree. But the gifts under it brought them utter joy, and the fact that Paw never got drunk again made it even more memorable.