Last week The Atlantic published a poll asking whether it was acceptable to have Christmas trees (holiday trees?) in the office. 80% of the respondents at that time were solidly “pre-tree” with some of the “anti-tree” respondents objecting not on religious grounds but on practical grounds–the messiness of the tree, for example (I presume they were talking about a live tree, but I don’t know that the poll presumed that the tree in the office had to be a live tree).
I work in a place where a tree is acceptable–in fact, I have a nativity scene in my office because I work for a church. But it dawned on me that we have “Christianized” the tree. The tree is actually a totally secular symbol that is now associated with the religious holiday of Christmas.
To go back in history (without getting too crazy about the religious stuff) ancient Egyptians actually brought date palms into their residences.
Romans, those great partiers of old, used palm branches as well to celebrate the feast of Saturnalia, one of their feasts dedicated to their god, Saturn.
It is when we get to the Druids that we discover evergreen branches being used, along with holly and mistletoe–the very same symbols that many of us associate with Christmas today–to celebrate solstice celebrations. It is believed that Martin Luther adopted the evergreen for use in his early worship and through the German tradition the Hessian soldiers may have brought the Christmas tree to America.
So the Christmas tree as a religious symbol? Not until the sixteen century and clearly evergreen trees of the local region where being used in celebration as far back as the early Egyptians.
But once again, I needn’t be the final authority on this very polarizing subject. A horticultural researcher has put together a fascinating history with more information than I have given here. I’m just not sure I’d bring this topic up at holiday parties since it mix religion and politics–something that sounds like a recipe for disaster!