UNDERNEATH THE CHRISTMAS TREE: HISTORY AND STORIES
On the occasion of our DIY Christmas educational activities, we ask children to decorate Fondazione FILA Museum’s Christmas Tree creatively. Today, our Blog tells you about the origins of a tradition we can never resist.
In her worldwide hit All I Want For Christmas (Is You) , pop singer Mariah Carey immediately mentions him, starting from the third line. Santa Claus? Not really: we’re speaking about the tree, obviously! It’s hard to imagine Christmas holiday without an embellished pine – whether small or big – able to light the most magical period of the year. What are the origins of this tradition?
It was born as a pagan habit. The Druids – the high-ranking priestly class in ancient Celtic cultures – used to celebrate evergreen trees as symbols of life: in Winter, they used to decorate pines with torches, bells and ribbons to recall spirits’ favours. On the other hand, every January 1st, the ancient Romans used to give small tree branches to each other, with a positive purpose as well.
The Christian Bible is furthermore filled with allusions: in the Garden of Eden, for instance, both the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil grow up. According to some theologians, the pine was eventually chosen by the Christians right for that triangular form able to embody strong symbols.
The first modern version of the Christmas Tree as we know it takes us back to 1611, in Germany: one day, after decorating her castle, the Duchess of Brieg noticed an empty corner, and immediately ordered to take a pine from the garden and display it to fill the void. The Protestant Reformation actually blocked several winter celebration for a very long time. Among the most interesting ones, we have one that used to take place in Tallinn, Estonia, where in the XV century a huge conifer was placed in the town hall square, and men and women danced around it as they searched for their soul mates.
However, if we want to speak about large-scale decorations, we have to reach the US: in December 1882, New York City, American businessman and inventor Edward H. Johnson (associate of Thomas Alva Edison), hanged eighty luminous bulbs on his Christmas tree, capturing the interesting of a Detroit Post and Avenue reporter. Defined ‘Father of the Christmas Tree Lights’ by the news, Johnson was soon imitated by the White House and would later have impact on another famous pine, the one that every year delights Rockefeller Plaza in Midnight Manhattan.
A Christmas tradition we particularly love is related to London’s Tate Britain: every year the museum commissions a tree to an acclaimed artist, and from 1988 we have enjoyed thematic projects by Gary Hume, Tracey Emin, Yinka Shonibare OBE, Julian Opie, Sarah Lucas.
Speaking about museums, every December the entrance of Fondazione FILA Museum is enriched by a sparkling pine protecting gifts for children. In 2023 such tradition becomes double: on the occasion of our educational project DIY Christmas, an extra tree is given to schools, asking them to decorate it with creativity and freedom. Christmas is a time of unity and sharing, and we truly believe these are the most important gifts for us.
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