For a few months now, we have seen Christmas decorations everywhere. In many houses, the Christmas tree has already been put up along with its festive decorations. But…when should we really put up a Christmas tree? As we all know, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. Many traditions are following during this event: the manger is put together, we make and receive gifts, eat traditional foods, and among other things, we put up a Christmas tree. In several countries of Latin America, the tree is decorated on December 8th. But this date is not chosen at random. Why do we say that?

Germany is the birthplace for Christmas tree decorations in the Christian sense of the word, and the way we view it today. However, this tradition goes back much earlier and vestiges of it can be found in various pagan cultures. 

It is believed that St. Boniface (680-754), German evangelizer, took an axe and chopped a tree representing Yggdrasil (it could have also been a tree dedicated to Thor), and in its place, he planted a pine tree, which as a perennial, symbolizing the love of God, and adorned it with apples and candles. The devotees of the Germanic tribes in the region of Alsace became the first Christians to adopt this rite. And it was Martin Luther, in the sixteenth century, who for the first time imposed the use of lights after having an epiphany in the forest where he saw trees illuminated by stars.

There are various legends about the meaning of the Christmas tree and the date when it should be put up in homes. According to the Celts, the perennial tree should be adorned on December 8th of each year to honor the birth of the god of fertility and the sun, Frey. This tree symbolizes the tree of the Universe, called Yggdrasil, in whose cup lays Asgard (the abode of the gods) and Valhalla (the palace of Odin); and in the deepest roots is found Helheim (the realm of the dead).

The ancient Greeks used to praise Dionysus, god of wine and fertility with a pine tree. The celebration included pine cones that symbolized “virginity” for the Romans.  Today, pine cones are an element in Christmas decorations.

With the arrival of Christianity, this tradition regained life, but the meaning behind the celebration was changed completely. In this way, the tree, a pine tree with a triangular shape, represents the most holy trinity, and its nature represents life, the universe, the prosperity and the love of God. The Apples that serve as decorations represent paradise as the candles shine the way to it. The light of Christ or the Holy Spirit and the twirls or bows tell of the union of family and loved ones, surrounded by gifts you want to give and receive. On the other hand, the star, which is generally placed at the top of the tree, represents faith, which must guide the life of a Christian, and reminds us of the star of Bethlehem.

In time, the decorations changed. Many objects that are currently placed on the tree have to do with the traditions of each family in particular, while others remain simply a particular design element. The candles gave way to electric lights and many people stopped using evergreen trees and use plastic instead. 

Other customs have also been adopted like placing gifts at the base of the tree for children together with the belief in Santa Claus or Father Christmas, another pagan character adopted and modified by the Christian church. 

All prayers offered during the Advent are distinguished by a particular color, and each one symbolizes a type:

The blue represents the prayers of reconciliation.

The silver represents the prayers of gratitude.

The gold represents songs of praise.

The green represents abundance, strength, and nature.

With regards the date of December 8th, 1854 Pope Pius IX declared the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, in which Mary is exempted of all kinds of guilt or sin in the conception of Jesus. Based on this declaration, December 8th is celebrated as the day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, that is to say, the day that Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, the parents of the Virgin, conceived. 

That is why, after the colonization of America and the expansion of Christianity, this tradition was extended as more of an evangelizing element. In some countries, this tradition was brought by European immigrants. However, although the date is not official or compulsory, much of Latin America puts up their Christmas tree on December 8th based on the beliefs and traditions of the Christian faith.

And you, when do you put up your Christmas tree?