Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2010 - Dec. 1 The Christmas Tree

Christmas. The mere mention of the word brings to mind a flood of emotions and memories all of which are tied to the sights, smells and traditions unique to each of us and shared with family. Central to our Christmas decoration is the tree and for that, we owe a debt of gratitude to Prince Albert for popularizing Christmas tree decorations. In 1841, following the German custom of his homeland, Prince Albert set up a tree at Windsor Castle. The London News published a now-famous illustration of the Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle which set the standard for how a tree might be expected to look. It wasn't long before the standard of the Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle replaced the custom of the Kissing Bough: a mixed piece of greenery which included mistletoe, evergreens, candles, apples and cinnamon sticks.

In 1854 a huge Christmas tree was placed at the site of the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, a personal triumph for Prince Albert, which help increase the demand for Christmas trees. But the association of the fir tree with Christianity began long before Prince Albert. Tradition says St. Boniface, who converted the German people to Christianity almost 1,000 years ago, came across a group of pagans worshiping the oak tree and in anger cut down the tree. In its place a fir tree is said to have sprung up from the roots of the oak which St. Boniface took as a sign of the Christian faith.

From Illustrated London Times, 1848

There is a long line of cultures what have treasured the evergreen and have included them in their celebrations. On the arrival of the winter solstice, ancient Egyptians brought green date palms into their homes; the Romans celebrated Saturnus, the god of agriculture, by decorating their homes with greens and lights; the Druids of Great Britain used evergreens during their winter solstice rituals and used holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life and placed evergreen boughs over their doors to keep away evil spirits.

During the American Revolutionary War, Hessian troops introduced the custom to the fledgling American population along with German immigrants in Pennsylvania and Ohio but the custom was slow to spread. Puritans banned Christmas in New England; schools in Boston stayed open on Christmas Day until 1871, students who stayed home were sometimes expelled.

So with a tip of the crown to Prince Albert, here are a few of my favorite Christmas tree photos and memories.

One of my earliest memories of Christmas, celebrated at 'the farm' in 1958 with my maternal grandparents, Harley and Alma Polar Space. I am in the middle clutching my bride doll, my sister Lisa on the right, age 10-months, and second cousin, Patty, on the left. I vividly recall not being able to get to sleep on Christmas Eve and my father bringing me downstairs with the hope I would go to sleep in my grandmother's room. Fat chance of that happening after I caught a glimpse of my doll, in all her wedding glory, front and center under the tree.

Christmas 1966 in Madison, WI. This began the Bergeron family tradition of having two trees: one in the living room and the other in the family room. This was the upstairs living room tree. That is me, sporting the Twiggy hair style showing off my guitar to my youngest sister Lori while adorable pixie bob Michelle looks on.

Christmas 1970 in Madison, the downstairs tree.

Christmas in Eau Claire at my parents house, circa 1990, the upstairs tree overlooking the wonderful mayhem of Christmas morning.

The one and only Christmas we spent 'up north' at our cabin, about 1991. Al, Chris and Jeff headed off with the four-wheelers to cut down the tree with Christmas snow falling. No lights or ornaments, I had brought up every one's stockings and garland but it is one of my fondest Christmas memories.

 Our millennium Christmas taken in our family room in Plover. All I've ever wanted for Christmas: cockers under the tree.

My fondest childhood Christmas memories are wrapped up with my paternal grandparents, Charles and Mildred Little Bergeron. Bubble lights in the front window and the Christmas tree in the corner. My grandmother had a set of village pieces that she set up on the buffet in the dining room. A precursor to Dept 56 pieces and one of traditions I continue with my own collection of Dickens Village pieces. But that is for another post.

"Every day, during the week the tree stood there, Francie put on her sweater and stocking cap and went in and sat under the tree. She sat there and enjoyed the smell of the dark greenness of it. Oh, the mystery of a great tree, a prisoner in a tin bucket in a tenement front room!"  Excerpt from "The Christmas Tree in Brooklyn. Betty Smith. 1943 


DianaR said...

What a great post ~ some history, some personal memories! I LOVE bubble lights!

Dar said...

Thanks for the education on Christmas ornaments. See, I'm Not too old to learn something. Your paternal grandparents tree remind me of many that our family had with the heavy silver tinsel hanging from every branch of a Charlie Brown tree. Thanks for taking us into your homes at Christmas. I loved the tour.

Cher' Shots said...

Hey Twiggy ~ luv the green stretch pants. I had a pair just like that. lol LOVE the dogs. AND we have yet another thing in common ~ we have the Dept. 56 North Pole Collection. (fitting seeing how we used to live in North Pole, Alaska)
'hugs from afar'


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