Danish Canadian Museum Advent Calendar December 14th 2020
How Did Christmas Trees Start?
The evergreen trees of the Scandinavian forests were a potent symbol of life for the Vikings. When all other trees and other plant life were apparently dead in midwinter, the
evergreen tree still looked healthy and green.
To the Vikings it represented the promise of life that even during winter at the death of the year there was still a seed of life to begin the new cycle.
As the evergreen trees were so revered, at Yule they would be decorated with small carvings and gifts for the spirits of the trees and plants to encourage them to come back soon and start the new spring.
Decorating evergreen trees did not stop with the Vikings though, through their Germanic descendants it spread to England and America and to the rest of the world. Decorating a Christmas tree is a Viking ritual that is performed worldwide every year!
In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 or December 22 and is called the winter solstice. Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god, and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong, and summer would return.
Decorating evergreen trees did not stop with the Vikings though, through their Germanic descendants it spread to England and America and to the rest of the world. Decorating a Christmas tree is a Viking ritual that is performed worldwide every year.
The Christmas tree came along, decorated with paper decorations, fruit, sweets, candles, and small Danish flags. The whole concept of Christmas trees was imported from Germany. Also, Christmas gifts became common along with Christmas cards and the Christmas "nisse," a small Danish mythical creature that you want to stay best friends with, since he can control your fortune. Hence the tradition of putting porridge out for the nisse on Christmas Eve. The nisse was usually a small, old man with a white beard, dressed in a grey sweater, grey trousers, a red pixie cap, red stockings, and wooden shoes. He was believed to live hundreds of years. As Christmas today is a family time, also the nisse has a family now.
In the beginning of the 20th century, Santa Claus and the stories surrounding him came to Denmark from the USA. From Great Britain came the mistletoe and holly. After the Second World War the Christmas Calendar, the wreath of Advent and the Lucia parade was introduced, and Christmas as it is known today took shape.