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For other uses, see Christmas tree (disambiguation).
A traditional Christmas treeA Christmas tree, Yule tree or Tannenbaum (German: fir tree) is one of the most popular traditions associated with the celebration of Christmas. It is normally an evergreen coniferous tree that is brought into a home or used in the open, and is decorated with Christmas lights and colourful ornaments during the days around Christmas. An angel or star is often placed at the top of the tree, representing the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity story.
1.1 Germanic tribes
3 Types of trees used
3.1 Natural trees
3.2 Artificial trees
3.2.1 Feather trees
3.2.2 Modern trees
3.2.3 Designer trees
3.2.4 Outdoor trees
3.2.5 Other gimmicks
3.2.6 Environmental issues
4 Decoration and ornaments
4.1 Tree mats and skirts
5.1.1 Catholic countries
7 See also
9 External links
With likely origins in European pre-Christian cultures, the Christmas tree has gained an extensive history and become a common sight during the winter season in various countries.
Illustration of Yggdrasil from the Ockelbo Runestone, Sweden.
- Germanic tribes
Patron trees (for example, the Irminsul, Thor's Oak and the figurative Yggdrasil) held special significance for the ancient Germanic tribes, appearing throughout historic accounts as sacred symbols and objects. According to Adam of Bremen, in Scandinavia the Germanic pagan kings sacrificed nine males (the number nine is a significant number in Norse mythology) of each species at the sacred groves every ninth year.
According to Church results, Saint Boniface (who, also according to Church records, had felled the Thor's Oak) attempted to Christianise the indigenous Germanic tribes by introducing the notion of trinity by using the cone-shaped evergreen trees because of their triangular appearance.
Dionysus in his Triumphant Return; behind the god, Victoria holds an evergreen.In the 13th century trees were nailed to the ceiling.
Roman mosaics from what is today Tunisia, showing the mythic triumphant return from India of the Greek god of wine and male fertility, Dionysus. The god carries a tapering coniferous tree.
Medieval legends tended to concentrate more on the miraculous "flowering" of trees at Christmas time. A branch of flowering Glastonbury thorn is still sent annually for the Queen's Christmas table in the United Kingdom.
A Christmas tree from 1900.The modern custom can be traced to 16th century Germany; Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann (Marburg professor of European ethnology) identified as the earliest reference a Bremen guild chronicle of 1570 which reports how a small fir was decorated with apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers, and erected in the guild-house, for the benefit of the guild members' children, who collected the dainties on Christmas day. Another early reference is from Basel, where the tailor apprentices carried around town a tree decorated with apples and cheese in 1597.
The city of Riga, Latvia, claims to be home of the first Christmas tree; an octagonal plaque in the town square reads "The First New Year's Tree in Riga in 1510", in eight languages. Around this same time period, and subject to much debate as to whether the event occurred before the Riga holiday tree, Martin Luther is said to have decorated a small tree in house to symbolise the way the stars shined at night. During the 17th century, the custom entered family homes. One Strasbourg priest, Johann Konrad Dannerstuart, complains about the custom as distracting from the Word of God.
By the early 18th century, the custom had become common in towns of the upper Rhineland, but it had not yet spread to rural areas. Wax candles are attested from the late 18th century. The Christmas tree remained confined to the upper Rhineland for a relatively long time. It was regarded as a Protestant custom by the Catholic majority along the lower Rhine and was spread there only by Prussian officials who were moved there in the wake of the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
In the early 19th century, the custom became popular among the nobility and spread to royal courts as far as Russia. Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg introduced the Christmas tree to Vienna in 1816, and the custom spread across Austria in the following years. In France, the first Christmas tree was introduced in 1840 by the duchess of Orleans.
The Queen's Christmas tree at Osborne House. The engraving republished in Godey's Lady's Book, Philadelphia, December 1850In Britain, the Christmas tree was introduced by King George III's German Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz but did not spread much beyond the royal family. Queen Victoria as a child was familiar with the custom. In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the delighted 13-year-old princess wrote, "After dinner...we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room...There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees...". After her marriage to her German cousin, Prince Albert, the custom became even more widespread. In 1847, Prince Albert wrote: "I must now seek in the children an echo of what Ernest [his brother] and I were in the old time, of what we felt and thought; and their delight in the Christmas-trees is not less than ours used to be". The generous Prince Stuart also presented large numbers of trees to schools and army barracks at Christmas. Images of the royal family with their Christmas tree at Osborne House were illustrated in English magazines, initially as a woodcut in the Illustrated London News of December 1848, and copied in the United States at Christmas 1850 (illustration, left). Such patriotic prints of the British royal family at Christmas celebrations helped popularise the Christmas tree in Britain and among the Anglophile American upper class.
Several cities in the United States lay claim to that country's first Christmas tree. Windsor Locks, Connecticut, claims that a Hessian soldier put up a Christmas tree in 1777 while imprisoned at the Noden-Reed House, thus making it the home of the first Christmas tree in New England. The "First Christmas Tree in America" is also claimed by Easton, Pennsylvania, where German settlers purportedly erected a Christmas tree in 1816. In his diary, Matthew Zahm of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, recorded the use of a Christmas tree in 1821 -- leading Lancaster to also lay claim to the first Christmas Tree in America.  Other accounts credit Charles Follen, a German immigrant to Boston, for being the first to introduce to America the custom of decorating a Christmas tree. August Imgard, a German immigrant living in Wooster, Ohio, is the first to popularise the practice of decorating a tree. In 1847, Imgard cut a blue spruce tree from a woods outside town, had the Wooster village tinsmith construct a star, and placed the tree in his house, decorating it with paper ornaments and candy canes. The National Confectioners' Association  officially recognises Imgard as the first ever to put candy canes on a Christmas tree; the canes were all-white, with no red stripes. Imgard is buried in the Wooster Cemetery, and every year, a large pine tree above his grave is lit with Christmas lights.
Rockefeller Center tree
Taiwanese aboriginals, tutored by Christian missionaries, celebrate with trees (Cunninghamia lanceolata) outside their homes.Many cities, towns, and department stores put up public Christmas trees outdoors for everyone to enjoy, such as the Rich's Great Tree in Atlanta, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in New York City and the large Christmas tree at Victoria Square in Adelaide. During most of the 1970s and 1980s, the largest Christmas tree in the world was put up every year on the property of The National Enquirer in Lantana, Florida. This tradition grew into one of the most spectacular and celebrated events in the history of southern Florida, but was discontinued on the death of the paper's founder in the late 1980s.
In some cities festivals are organised around the decoration and display of multiple trees as charity events. In some cases the trees represent special commemorative gifts, such as in Trafalgar Square in London, where the City of Oslo, Norway presents a tree to the people of London as a token of appreciation for the British support of Norwegian resistance during the Second World War; in Boston, where the tree is a gift from the province of Nova Scotia, in thanks for rapid deployment of supplies and rescuers to the 1917 ammunition ship explosion that leveled the city of Halifax; and in Newcastle upon Tyne, where the 15m-tall main civic Christmas tree is an annual gift from the city of Bergen, Norway, in thanks for the part played by soldiers from Newcastle in liberating Bergen from Nazi occupation.
The United States' National Christmas Tree is lit each year south of the White House in Washington, D.C. Today, the lighting of the National Tree is part of what has become a major holiday event at the White House. President Jimmy Carter lit only the crowning star atop the Tree in 1979 in honour of the Americans being held hostage in Iran; in 1980, the tree was fully lit for only 417 seconds, one second for each day the hostages had been in captivity.
The term Charlie Brown Christmas tree is used in the USA to describe any sad-looking, malformed little tree. Some tree buyers intentionally adopt such trees, feeling sympathetic to their plights. The term comes from the appearance of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree in the TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas.
In New Zealand, Pohutukawa trees are described as 'natural Christmas trees', as they bloom at Christmas time, and they look like Christmas trees with their red flowers and green foliage.The christmas colours are yellow green and white.
It is generally thought that Christmas trees were established in Britain after Queen Victoria's consort, Prince Albert, brought the custom over from Germany. However, there are records of small fir trees being used to decorate houses before this and sailors used to affix one to the top of the mainmast of their ships.
In Germany and northern Europe, the practice of decorating coniferous trees originated in pagan times, when the trees were seen as phallic symbols representing the fertility of the nature gods. The practice was associated with the Winter Solstice (around December 21) which was seen as the date of the rebirth of the Sun God. Tree decoration was later adopted into Christian practice after the Church set December 25th as the birth of Christ, thereby supplanting the pagan celebration of the solstice.
Before electricity Christmas trees were lit by candles. Some cultures continue to use candles, such as this traditional Danish tree.Traditionally, Christmas trees were not brought in and decorated until Christmas Eve (24 December), and then removed the day after twelfth night (i.e., 6 January); to have a tree up before or after these dates was even considered bad luck. Modern commercialisation of Christmas has resulted in trees being put up much earlier; in shops often as early as late October (in the UK, Selfridge's Christmas department is up by early September, complete with Christmas trees). A common tradition in U.S. homes is to put the tree up right after Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) and to take it down right after the New Year. Some households in the U.S. do not put up the tree until the second week of December, and leave it up until the 6th of January (Epiphany). In Germany, traditionally the tree is put up 24th of December and taken down 7th of January, though many start one or two weeks earlier and in Roman-Catholic areas the tree may be kept until late January. In Australia, the Christmas tree is usually put up on the 1st of December, which occurs about a week before the school summer holidays; except for South Australia, where most people put up their tree after the Adelaide Credit Union Christmas Pageant, which is in early November. Some traditions suggest that Christmas trees may be kept up until no later than the 2nd of February, the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Candlemas), when the Christmas season effectively closes. Superstitions warn of negative consequences if Christmas greenery is not removed by Candlemas Eve.
A sheared tree.
A Christmas tree from 1951, in a home in New York state. Trees then were not usually sheared.
- Types of trees used
Both natural and artificial trees are used as Christmas trees.
- Natural trees
The best species for use are species of fir (Abies), which have the major benefit of not shedding the needles when they dry out, as well as good foliage colour and scent; but species in other genera are also used. Commonly used species in northern Europe are:
Silver Fir Abies alba (the original species)
Nordmann Fir Abies nordmanniana (as in the photo)
Noble Fir Abies procera
Norway Spruce Picea abies (generally the cheapest)
Serbian Spruce Picea omorika
Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris
and in North America and Central America:
Balsam Fir Abies balsamea
Fraser Fir Abies fraseri
Grand Fir Abies grandis
Guatemalan Fir Abies guatemalensis
Noble Fir Abies procera
Red Fir Abies magnifica
Douglas-fir Pseudotsuga menziesii
Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris
Stone Pine Pinus pinea (as small table-top trees)
Several other species are used to a lesser extent. Less-traditional conifers are sometimes used, such as Giant Sequoia, Leyland Cypress and Eastern Juniper. Various types of spruce tree are also used for Christmas trees; but spruce trees (unlike firs) begin to lose their needles rapidly upon being cut, and many spruces, such as the Blue Spruce have very sharp needles, making decorating uncomfortable. Virginia Pine is still available on some tree farms in the southeastern United States, however its winter colour is faded. The long-needled Eastern White Pine is also used there, though it is an unpopular Christmas tree in most parts of the country, owing also to its faded winter coloration and limp branches, making decorating difficult with all but the lightest ornaments. Norfolk Island pine is sometimes used, particularly in Oceania, and in Australia some species of the genera Casuarina and Allocasuarina are also occasionally used as Christmas trees. Hemlock species are generally considered unsuitable as Christmas trees due to their poor needle retention and inability to support the weight of lights and ornaments.
Some trees are sold live with roots and soil, often from a nursery, to be planted later outdoors and enjoyed (and often decorated) for years or decades. However, the combination of root loss on digging, and the indoor environment of high temperature and low humidity is very detrimental to the tree's health, and the survival rate of these trees is low. These trees must be kept inside only for a few days, as the warmth will bring them out of dormancy, leaving them little protection when put back outside into the midwinter cold in most areas. Others are produced in a container and sometimes as topiary for a porch or patio.
European tradition prefers the open aspect of naturally-grown, unsheared trees, while in North America (outside western areas where trees are often wild-harvested on public lands) there is a preference for close-sheared trees with denser foliage, but less space to hang decorations. The shearing also damages the highly attractive natural symmetry of unsheared trees. In the past, Christmas trees were often harvested from wild forests, but now almost all are commercially grown on tree farms.
Almost all Christmas trees in the United States are grown on Christmas tree farms where they are cut after about ten years of growth and new trees planted. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) agriculture census for 2002 (the census is done every five years) there were 21,904 farms were producing conifers for the cut Christmas Tree market in America, 180,897 hectares (447,006 acres) were planted in Christmas Trees, and 13,849 farms harvested cut trees. The top 5% of the farms (40 ha / 100 acres or more) sold 61% of the trees. The top 26% of the farms (8 ha / 20 acres or more) sold 84 percent of the trees. Farms less than 0.8 ha (two acres) comprised 21% of the farms, and sold an average of 115 trees per farm
In the UK, The British Christmas Tree Growers Association represents the interests of all those who grow Christmas trees in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The lifecycle of a Christmas tree from the seed to a 2-metre (7 ft) tree takes, depending on species and treatment in cultivation, between 8 and 12 years. First, the seed is extracted from cones harvested from older trees. These seeds are then usually grown in nurseries and then sold to Christmas tree farms at an age of 3-4 years. The remaining development of the tree greatly depends on the climate, soil quality, as well as the cultivation and tendance by the Christmas tree farmer.
- Artificial trees
An artificial Christmas tree.
A large artificial Christmas tree outside a shopping mall in Hong Kong, the People's Republic of ChinaArtificial trees have become increasingly popular, as they are considered more convenient and (if used for several years) less expensive than real trees, as well as less wasteful than cutting down real trees. Trees come in a number of colours and "species", and some come pre-decorated with lights. At the end of the Christmas season artificial trees can be disassembled and stored compactly.
Artificial trees are sometimes even a necessity in some rented homes (especially apartment flats), due to the potential fire danger from a dried-out real tree, leading to their prohibition by some landlords. They may also be necessary for people who have an allergy to conifers, and are increasingly popular in office settings.
- Feather trees
The first artificial trees were tabletop feather trees, made from green-dyed goose feathers wound onto sticks drilled into a larger one, like the branches on a tree. Originating in Germany in the 19th century to prevent further deforestation, these "minimalist" trees show off small ornaments very well. The first feather trees came to the U.S. in 1913, in the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog.
- Modern trees
The first modern artificial Christmas trees were produced by companies which made brushes. They were made the same way, using animal hair (mainly pig bristles) and later plastic bristles, dyed pine-green in colour, inserted between twisted wires that form the branches. The bases of the branches were then twisted together to form a large branch, which was then inserted by the user into a wooden pole (now metal with plastic rings) for a trunk. Each row of branches is a different size, colour-coded at the base with paint or stickers for ease of assembly.
The first trees looked like long-needled pine trees, but later trees use flat PVC sheets to make the needles. Many also have very short brown "needles" wound in with the longer green ones, to imitate the branch itself or the bases that each group of pine (but not other conifer) needles grows from. These trees have become a little more realistic every year, with a few deluxe trees containing multiple branch styles and newly developed True Needle technology to more closely imitate nature. Many trees now come in "slim" versions, to fit in smaller spaces. Most of the better trees have branches hinged to the pole, though the less-expensive ones generally still come separately. The hinged branched trees just need for the branches to be lowered, but they are a little less compact. Better trees also have more branch tips, the number usually listed on the box.
Around 2003, some trees with moulded plastic branches started selling in the U.S. Now there are also upside down Christmas trees. These Christmas trees are advertised to "Give you more space for presents".
- Designer trees
A vintage aluminium tree, lit by a rotating colour wheel.The first artificial trees that were not green were the metallic trees, introduced about 1958, and quite popular through the 1960s. These were made of aluminium attached to metal rods, supported on wooden or aluminium central poles. Some were made with aluminium-coated paper, which was flammable. These posed a great fire hazard if lights were put directly on them, particularly the relatively hot bulbs sold in that era; warnings to this effect are still issued with some Christmas tree lights. They were instead lit by a spotlight or floodlight, often with a motorised rotating colour wheel in front of them.
More recent tinsel trees can be used safely with lights, due to the use of flame retardant materials as well as improvements in the safety of the Christmas tree lights themselves.
Other artificial trees may look nothing like a conifer except for the triangular or conical shape. These may be made from cardboard, glass, plastic, or from stacked items such as ornaments. Such items are often used as tabletop decorations.
For further variations see Annual christmas trees exhibition at the State University of Arts and Design Karlsruhe, Germany
- Outdoor trees
Outdoor branched trees made out of heavy white-enameled steel wires have become more popular on U.S. lawns in the 2000s, along with 1990s spiral ones that hang from a central pole, both styles being lighted with standard miniature lights. These lights are usually white, but often are green, red, red/green, blue/white, blue, or multicoloured, and sometimes with a small controller to fade colours back and forth.
A few hotels and other buildings, both public and private, will string lights up from the roof to the top of a small tower on top of the building, so that at night it appears as a lit Christmas tree, often using green or other coloured lights. Some skyscrapers will tell certain offices to leave their lights on (and others off) at night during December, creating a Christmas tree pattern.
- Other gimmicks
A tree with fibre optic lightsSince the late 1990s, many indoor artificial trees come pre-strung with lights. Some are instead lit partly or completely by fibre optics, with the light in the base, and a rotating colour wheel causing various colours to shimmer across the tree.
In 2005 Upside-Down Christmas Trees became popular. They were originally sold as decorations for merchants that allowed customers to get closer to ornaments being sold. Customers then wanted to replicate the inverted tree. Retailers also claimed that the trees were popular because they allowed larger presents to be placed beneath the trees. Upside-down Christmas trees come in three varieties: stand-alone, ceiling, and wall. The stand-alone trees have a flat base. Ceiling trees have a base that can be bolted into a ceiling, and wall trees are generally half of a tree, that are bolted to a wall.
Past gimmicks include small talking or singing trees, and trees which blow "snow" (actually small styrofoam beads) over themselves, collecting them in a decorative cardboard bin at the bottom and blowing them back up to the top through a tube hidden next to the trunk.
A long-standing and simple gimmick is conifer seedlings sold with cheap decorations attached by soft pipe cleaners. Real potted ones are often sold like this, and artificial ones often come with a "root ball" but only sometimes with decorations.
- Environmental issues
There is some debate as to whether artificial or real trees are better for the natural environment. Artificial trees are usually made out of PVC, a toxic material which is often stabilised with lead. Some trees have a warning that dust or leaves from the tree should not be eaten or inhaled. A small amount of real-tree material is used in some artificial trees. For instance, the bark of a real tree can be used to surface an artificial trunk. Polyethylene trees are less toxic, though more expensive, than PVC trees.
Artificial trees can be used for many years, but are usually non-recyclable, ending up in landfills. Real trees are used only for a short time, but can be recycled and used as mulch or used to prevent erosion. Real trees also help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere while growing.
Live trees are typically grown as a crop and replanted in rotation after cutting, often providing suitable habitat for wildlife. In some cases management of Christmas tree crops can result in poor habitat since it involves heavy input of pesticides. Organically grown Christmas trees are available in some markets, and as with many other crops, are widely held to be better for the environment.
- Decoration and ornaments
A bauble decorating a Christmas treeTinsel and several types of garland or ribbon are commonly used to decorate a Christmas tree. Delicate mould-blown and painted coloured glass Christmas ornaments were a specialty of Czech and Polish glass factories from the late 19th century, and have since become a large industry, complete with famous-name designers. Lighting with candles or electric lights (fairy lights) is commonly done, and a tree topper completes the ensemble. Strands of tinsel may be hung in groups from longer branches to simulate icicles, though this trend has gradually fallen off since the late 1970s, due primarily to a cessation of the manufacture of metal tinsel because of environmental concerns. This was replaced with silvered saran based tinsel, which many have found to be unsatisfactory, leading to the demise of tinsel in tree decorating in the United States (it remains popular in many European countries). Baubles are another extremely common decoration, and usually consist of a fairly small hollow glass or plastic sphere coated with a thin metallic layer to make them reflective, and then with a further coating of a thin pigmented polymer in order to provide coloration.
Individuals' decorations vary widely, typically being an eclectic mix of family traditions and personal tastes; even a small unattractive ornament, if passed down from a parent or grandparent, may come to carry considerable emotional value and be given pride of place on the tree. Conversely, trees decorated by professional designers for department stores and other institutions will usually have a "theme"; a set of predominant colours, multiple instances of each type of ornament, and larger decorations that may be more complicated to set up correctly. Some churches decorate with Chrismon trees, which use handmade ornaments depicting various Chrismon symbols.
Many people also decorate outdoor trees with food that birds and other wildlife will enjoy, such as garlands made from unsalted popcorn or cranberries, orange halves, and seed-covered suet cakes.
- Tree mats and skirts
A tree of poinsettias in San DiegoSince candles were used to light trees until electric bulbs came about, a mat (UK) or "skirt" (US) was often placed on the floor below the tree to protect it by catching the dripping candle wax, and also to collect any needles that fall. Even when dripless candles, electric lights and artificial trees have been used, a skirt is still usually used as a decorative feature: among other things, it hides the tree stand, which may be unsightly but which is an important safety feature of home trees. What began as ordinary cloth has now often become much more ornate, some having embroidery or being put together like a quilt.
A nativity scene, model train, or Christmas village may be placed on the mat or skirt. As Christmas presents arrive, they are generally placed underneath the tree on the tree skirt (depending on tradition, all Christmas gifts, or those too large to be hung on the tree, as in "presents on the tree" of the song "I'll Be Home for Christmas").
Generally, the difference between a mat and skirt is simply that a mat is placed under the tree stand, while a skirt is placed over it, having a hole in the middle for the trunk, with a slot cut to the outside edge so that it can be placed around the tree (beneath the branches) easily. A plain mat of fabric or plastic may also be placed under the stand and skirt to protect the floor from scratches or water.
In the 1940s and 1950s flocking was very popular on the West Coast of the United States. There were home flocking kits that could be used with vacuum cleaners. In the 1980s some trees were sprayed with fluffy white flocking to simulate snow. Typically it would be sprayed all over the tree from the sides, which produced a look different from real snow, which settles in clumps atop branches. Flocking can be done with a professional sprayer at a tree lot (or the manufacturer if it is artificial), or at home from a spray can, and either can be rather messy. This tradition seems to be most popular on the West Coast and Southern parts of the United States.
Because flock contains flame retardants, a flocked tree can be placed in a public building in accordance with local fire codes.
This section does not cite any references or sources.
Please improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unverifiable material may be challenged and removed. (November 2007)
The Christmas tree has seen an amount of controversy, mainly involving the secular and non-secular usage of the tree as well as groups who oppose usage of the tree on the grounds of interpretation of scripture and claimed pagan origins and/or pagan character of the custom. There are also those who view it as a Christian symbol.
Jeremiah 10:1-5 in the Bible says the following (KJV):
 Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:  Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.  For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.  They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.  They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.
This is interpreted by some Christians as referring to a Christmas tree, and that therefore the Bible would explicitly forbid the practice. However, the more common interpretation is that the passage refers to idol worship, and it is the practice of making an object out of wood, silver, and gold, and then worshiping that idol, which is pagan.
- Catholic countries
Syncretising traditions, the Bilbao airport displays the foreign tree and the rural Basque Olentzero.In some Catholic countries, the tree is seen as a recent Protestant or American influence detracting from the Mediterranean traditions of the Christmas crib, though the tree is not a Protestant practice or even biblical. However in many Catholic homes, both types of decoration coexist.
Jewish parents in Christian societies may find that their children feel missing out during the Christmas season. This has led to the increasing importance of the Hannukah celebrations, initially a minor Jewish Festival, when children now receive gifts and toys instead of the gelt of Ashkenazi tradition. Some mixed-religion families or those wanting to blend better with their Christian environment will dub their trees "Hannukah bushes". Typically, these trees will incorporate a Jewish motif, with blue color schemes and ornaments featuring menorahs, dreidels and other typical symbols of Hannukah.
More Orthodox Jews frown upon this Christian influence.
See also: Christmas tree cultivation
Each year, 33 to 36 million Christmas trees are produced in America, and 50 to 60 million are produced in Europe. In 1998, there were about 15,000 growers in America (a third of them "choose and cut" farms). In that same year, it was estimated that Americans spent $1.5 billion on Christmas trees.
- See also
New Year Tree
Star of Bethlehem
Christmas Tree Festival
^ Clark, Christine and Brimhall-Vargas, Mark Secular Aspects and International Implications of Christian Privilege 
^ Tshan, Francis J. Adam of Breman
^ Credition UK National Shrine of St. Boniface. Boniface of Crediton. Retrieved on 2006-12-08.
^ The History of Christmas. Gareth Marples. Retrieved on Dec 2, 2006.
^ Newcastle City Council Town twinning: Bergen, Norway
^ Customs of the Weeks after Epiphany. The Liturgical Year. Holy Trinity (German) Catholic Church. Retrieved on 2006-12-15.
^ Snopes. Christmas Superstitions. Urban Legends Reference Pages. Barbara and David P. Mikkelson. Retrieved on 2006-12-15.
^ US Bureau of Land Management: Christmas tree permits
^ US National Christmas Tree Association: Statistics
^ MK Weihnachtsbaumkulturen
^ Grist environmental commentary: Christmas trees
^ Engineer Update: Old Christmas trees protect town beach
^ Chastagner, Gary A. and Benson, D. Michael (2000). The Christmas Tree. Retrieved on 2006-12-08.
- External links
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Christmas treeWikisource has an original article from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia about:
ChristmasAnnual christmas trees exhibition at the State University of Arts and Design Karlsruhe, Germany
British Royal Family Christmas trees
Riga, Latvia purported home of the original Christmas Tree
1777 Christmas tree in Windsor Locks, CT
[show]v • d • eChristmas trees
Topics Christmas tree cultivation · Christmas tree farm · Christmas trees · Cultivation history · Pests and weeds · Production · Canadian production · U.S. production
[show]v • d • eChristmas
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Categories: All articles with unsourced statements | Articles with unsourced statements since February 2007 | Articles with unsourced statements since July 2007 | Articles needing additional references from November 2007 | Articles with unsourced statements since September 2007 | Christmas traditions | Christmas trees
By Joan Springer Papa
The European origins of Halloween’s Trick or Treat
Edited and Published by Michael Walsh
To Pennsylvanian children of the 19th Century, the giver of Christmas gifts was not a benevolent old gentleman who dropped down a chimney to fill waiting stockings, but a menacing creature called the Belsnickel.
Usually a neighbouring farmer disguised in outlandish costume, Belsnickel brought goodies for well-behaved girls and boys, and carried a whip or sticks to punish the naughty. His visit was designed to strike terror into the hearts of the most recalcitrant, as he rattled his sticks over the window panes before bursting through the door.
Customs varied from community to community, but the enormous role of Belsnickel played in Christmas celebrations is evidenced by the many cookie cutters, chocolate molds, dolls, papier-mâché figurines, scrapbook cut outs, and postcards that survive from the era.
In 1843, a Lancaster printer issued a child’s book entitled, Belsnickel’s Gift or a Visit From Saint Nicholas; children in the area presumably needed some introduction to ‘Jolly old St. Nick.’
Born in the mists of unrecorded history, the Belsnickel appeared in one form or another over much of Europe and Asia Minor. Possibly he can trace his ancestry to the stories of Saint Nicholas (born in the 5th Century) that over the centuries merged with pagan myths.
During the Middle Ages, the Dutch believed that on his birthday – December 6 – Saint Nicholas chained the Devil (Zwarte Piet – Black Peter), and made him carry gifts, and brandish a light birch rod to threaten the wicked. The good saint, who rode through the city streets on a magnificent white horse, attended by the burgomaster and other city officials, was often accorded a whole brigade of Zwarte Piets to assist him on his busy rounds of schools, hospitals, and other institutions.
Through Dutch villages, a Moor rode, clad as a medieval page in black plumed hat, doublet, gloves and hose, carrying with him a yawning black bag in which to stuff exceptionally naughty children.
In 14th Century Holland, while choirboys at the churches of St. Nicholas went begging for money to buy candles for the church (and candy for themselves) on the good saint’s day, well-behaved pupils in nearby convent schools were being rewarded with gifts, and disobedient students were feeling the lash of a birch rod – all judgements being passed under an imposing statue of the white-robed saint in his tall Christmas miter.
The North German version of Saint Nicholas’s alter ego was called Knect Rupprecht, a servant of Christ sent to seek out the worthy. His examination caused deep sorrow in the guilty, who believed him to be a true prophet. He appeared clad in skins or straw; because of his extremely fierce appearance, Knecht Rupprecht became known as ru-Klas or rough Nicholas.
In the Rhine Provinces of Germany, Saint Nicholas was accompanied by Peltz Nickel, a boy with a blackened face, a beard, and rattling chains, who walked on all fours to represent the donkey the Christ child rode. The Christkind (Christ child) was represented by a little girl dressed in white. Peltz Nickel went from house to house with the Christkind to give each mother a beating rod with which to discipline her children during the coming year. From the diminutive, Christkindel, eventually came Kris Kringle – so cultures evolve.
Upon Peltz Nickel’s arrival, if the children knelt and said their prayers nicely, he gave them apples or nuts, or perhaps a honey cake and candy. This ‘visiting’ began on the first Sunday in December and, at times, continued intermittently until Christmas Eve when Saint Nicholas arrived with the real Christmas gifts.
Transported to Pennsylvanian soil, this dark and ominous soul took on as many variations in name and form as did his predecessors throughout Europe. Usually American Belsnickels wore masks and carried whips to frighten the children. If a shaggy bearskin coat or skunk skin cap was available, so much the better, for they fulfilled the name, which translates ‘Nicholas in furs’. Grown ups remembering their own childhood, were often amused by this figure; but children, vulnerable in their boundless belief, were genuinely frightened.
One elderly lady wrote in her journal of the year when six or seven youths burst into her home, so frightening her that she ran out of the back door. The young men, meaning no harm, left at once. At the time she had supposed them to be ‘bell schnikels,’ but later, as she was sitting with her son, ‘Aunt Sally came in smiling and mysterious and took her place by the stove. Immediately after there entered a man in disguise who very much alarmed my little Dan. The stranger threw down nuts and cakes, and when someone offered to pick them up struck at him with a rod. This was the real bell schnikel.’
In early Baltimore, Saint Nicholas had an assistant named Pelsnickel, who wore a great cape, a fur hat, and dragged a clanking chain which, mingled with his solemn sounding bells, struck awe into the hearts of children. This Baltimore Pelsnickel also carried a great rod with which to chastise wrongdoers.
Whenever a custom is transported from one country to another, it invariably changes, but the Baltimore Pelsnickel, brought to Maryland (as well as to North Carolina, Nova Scotia, and many other areas) by immigrant Europeans, mostly of German stock, bears a striking resemblance to Peltz Nickel of the Rhine Valleys.
Occasionally, women assumed the role of Belsnickel. The Reading, Pennsylvania, Daily Times of December 25, 1975 tells of one who: " . . . . flourished a whip she had concealed under her cloak, and hobbled round the room, and then commenced her long string of interrogations: ‘Do you obey your parents, attend church, repeat your catechism, say your prayers when you go to bed, and do everything which constitutes good and dutiful children?’
‘Yes, ma’am!’ very meekly responded all of them. . . then the ogre was changed into a lovely fairy, and she took her basket from her arm and strewed the carpet with cakes, nuts, raisins, apples, candy, toys of various kinds, and then what a scrabbling there was."
In some areas, a group of ‘a half dozen jovial fellows led by a so-called Belsniggle," burst into unsuspecting homes and tossing treats on the floor to entice the children, lashed out with whips at those who had been rude or self-willed during the past year. Such groups usually expected refreshments or money as payment for their performance. This was a departure from the usual Belsnickel tradition, which had been to give, and is more akin to Belsnickeling, a Pennsylvanian custom, which incorporated the activities of mummers and carolers of old, when crowds garbed themselves in bizarre costumes and roamed from house to house entertaining, and expected refreshment as a reward for their performances. Should their shenanigans not be appreciated, they resorted to mischief making.
Belsnickeling continued well into the 20th Century, eventually giving way to ‘trick or treat’ festivities at Halloween. A reminiscence from Paxtonville, a small town between Sunbury and Lewistown, Pennsylvania, describes yet another style of group Belsnickeling.
On New Year’s Day or Bell Schnikel Day, whether from fear or superstition, or simply to enjoy a riotous day of mumming, the entire community dressed in costumes and greeted the New Year by firing guns and ringing bells.
If New Year’s Day fell on a weekday, children were not excused from school; nevertheless, at recess time, a parade of bellnickelers rode to the school to chase the partly delighted, partly frightened children over the frozen fields. Paxtonville mothers threatened as mothers had for many centuries before: "You’d better be good or the Bells Knickell will get you."
By the end of the 1870’s Belsnickel celebrations were noticeably less violent. The American Volunteer of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, reported on December 24, 1874: "There will be a large turn out of the Mystic Krew of Komus . . . the procession will parade through our streets, stopping now and then to give an opportunity to the Krew to take a peep into certain houses to see that the children has said their prayers and have gone to bed early . . . After having marched through the town, distributing alms to the deserving poor and toys and candies to the good and obedient children, the Krew will be marched to the market house, where they will all join in a festive dance."
Old legends are slow to die. Late 19th and early 20th century pictures of Santa Claus occasionally show him holding a bunch of sticks, although in these depictions the baffled man seems dismayed by so alien an element. A community no longer wanting to frighten little children has quietly phased out the Belsknickel but it still knocks on doors on Halloween night
Where did Santa Claus come from?
The oft-repeated tale of Santa Claus goes like this:
According to the legend, Santa began as a fourth century Catholic bishop named Saint Nicholas. The cult of St. Nicholas was one of histories most widespread religious movements. According to St. Nicholas historian, Charles W. Jones, ". . . the cult of St. Nicholas was, before the Reformation, the most intensive of any nonbiblical saint in Christendom. . . there were 2,137 ecclesiastical dedications [churches] to Nicholas in France, Germany, and the Low Countries alone before the year 1500." (Jones, Charles. W. "Knickerbocker Santa Claus." The New-York Historical Society Quarterly, October 1954, Volume XXXVIII Number Four, p.357)
The popular book, The Christmas Almanack, states, "By the height of the Middle Ages, St. Nicholas was probably invoked in prayer more than any other figure except the Virgin Mary and Christ Himself" (Del Re, Gerard and Patricia. The Christmas Almanack. New York: Random House, 2004, p. 131)
Miraculous folklore and legend surround the mysterious St. Nicholas. Among the more popular legends of St. Nicholas is the rescue of three poverty-stricken girls destined for prostitution. These girls were poor and did not have the dowry for marriage. St. Nicholas saved them from a life of shame, by providing marriage dowries of gold. They then were able to get properly married.
Another amazing miracle in the life of St. Nicholas is the three young boys who were sadistically murdered by a wicked innkeeper. Their bodies were chopped up and preserved in pickle barrels, with the cannibalistic intent of feeding their flesh to unsuspecting house guests. Of course, the amazing St. Nicholas resurrected the boys and their mutilated bodies. And like Santa, Saint Nicholas gave gifts to poor children, hence, his veneration as Patron Saint of Children. During the Middle Ages, hundreds of plays and paintings told and re-told the amazing feats of St. Nicholas.
Next, according to legend, Santa magically appears in the Netherlands around the seventeenth century. During this time, Sinter Klaas (a.k.a. Santa Claus) was officially born. Dutch children began the tradition of placing their shoes by the fireplace on December 5, for the mystic fourth century Bishop, Saint Nicholas. (Note: In the Dutch language Saint Nicholas is "Sint Nikolass," which was shortened to "Sinter Klaas," of which the anglicized form is "Santa Claus.") The next morning, the gleeful Dutch children quickly awoke to gifts and goodies in their shoes, left by Sinter Klaas. Like today’s Santa, Sinter Klaas, miraculously, traveled from housetop to housetop, and entered through the chimney.
Our next stop on the Santa highway is the year 1626 in the New World called America. Searching for the "American dream," Dutch settlers sailed from the Netherlands and established the Dutch colony called New Amsterdam (today called New York). The Dutch colonists quickly settled into America, bringing their customs, and of course, their beloved Sinter Klaas.
In December 1809, American essayist Washington Irving published a popular satire of the Dutch founding of New York titled A Knickerbocker History of New York. More than any other event, it was Irving’s Knickerbocker History that is credited for creating our modern day Santa Claus. The following history-making words from The Knickerbocker History became the public inauguration of Santa Claus. Who could have possibly imagined the significance these simple words would soon have?
And the sage Oloffe dreamed a dream,–and lo, the good St. Nicholas came riding over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to the children. . . And when St. Nicholas had smoked his pipe, he twisted it in his hatband, and laying his finger beside his nose, gave the astonished Van Kortlandt a very significant look; then, mounting his wagon, he returned over the treetops and disappeared. (Irving, Washington. Knickerbocker’s History of New York, New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1928, p. 50)
At this early period was instituted that pious ceremony, still religiously observed in all our ancient families of the right breed, of hanging up a stocking in the chimney on St. Nicholas Eve; which stocking is always found in the morning miraculously filled; for the good St. Nicholas has ever been a great giver of gifts, particularly to children. (Irving, Washington. Knickerbocker’s History of New York, New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1928, p. 68)
Next stop on our investigative journey for Santa, surprisingly, comes from the pen of a New York theology professor named Dr. Clement Clarke Moore. In 1822, inspired by Irving’s popular, Knickerbocker History’s portrayal of jolly St. Nicholas, Dr. Moore quietly wrote a trivial poem titled, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" for his own children as a simple Christmas present. Dr. Moore had no intention of publishing his poem, but in 1823 it was published anonymously, by a friend, in the Troy Sentinel. Moore’s extremely popular poem was the spark that lit the Santa Claus wildfire. Santa quickly began flying through America. Dr. Moore’s poem was later renamed the famous, "Twas’ The Night Before Christmas."
The finishing touches for Santa occurred around 1863 from the artistic hands of cartoonist Thomas Nast. Inspired by Moore’s popular poem, Nast illustrated scores of Santa pictures in Harper’s Weekly and the world was officially baptized with the face of Santa Claus. Nast’s early Santa was burly, stern, gnome-like, and covered with drab fur, much unlike today’s colorful and jolly fellow. But make no mistake – it was Santa.
Let us investigate the traditional Santa story a little closer. . .
The mysterious St. Nicholas.
The first major problem in the Santa Claus saga is the person of St. Nicholas. There is very little evidence, if any, that the man St. Nicholas actually existed.
Nicholas' existence is not attested by any historical document, so nothing certain is known of his life except that he was probably bishop of Myra in the fourth century. . .
("Nicholas, Saint" Encyclopaedia Britannica 99)
Nicholas, Saint (lived 4th century), Christian prelate, patron saint of Russia, traditionally associated with Christmas celebrations. The accounts of his life are confused and historically unconfirmed.
("Nicholas, Saint" Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99)
Unfortunately, very little is known about the real St. Nicholas. Countless legends have grown up around this very popular saint, but very little historical evidence is available. (Del Re, Gerard and Patricia. The Christmas Almanack. New York: Random House, 2004, p. 130)
In 1969, the final nail in the coffin to the feeble fable of St. Nicholas was officially hammered down. Despite the fact, St. Nicholas is among Roman Catholicism’s most popular and venerated "Saints," Pope Paul VI officially decreed the feast of Saint Nicholas removed from the Roman Catholic calendar. UPI Wire Services reported that St. Nicholas and forty other saints were deleted because "of doubt that they ever existed." ("Pope Marches 40 Saints Off Official Church Calendar." UPI Wire Services. <www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=389>)
Because the saint's life is so unreliably documented, Pope Paul VI ordered the feast of Saint Nicholas dropped from the official Roman Catholic calendar in 1969. ("Santa Claus" Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99)
The next devastating error in the traditional "Santa comes to America" legend is Irving’s Knickerbocker History. Irving claims the early Dutch planted the legend of Sinter Klaas in America. One little problem – it is historically false. In fact, Irving, a well known fiction author of such classics as Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, never intended Knickerbocker History as historical fact, but silly satire. To heighten the satire and humorous effect, Irving even used the comical pen-name of Diedrich Knickerbocker as author.
In October 1954, prominent St. Nicholas historian, Charles W. Jones, published an irrefutable dismantling of the historical accuracy of Irving’s Knickerbocker History in the prestigious, The New-York Historical Society Quarterly titled, "Knickerbocker Santa Claus." Jones proved the early New Amsterdam Dutch were Reformation Dutch who believed the veneration of saints as evil heresy, especially St. Nicholas. Jones provided first-hand documents of the early Dutch that decrees "very severe" laws prohibiting any celebration of St. Nicholas. Jones added that "there is no record of anyone breaking such laws." Jones’s convincing analysis should be carefully examined by anyone researching the true origin of Santa. The following brief cites are from Jones’s convincing work:
Nearly everyone repeats this story [the Dutch-Santa]. . . But when we look at the evidence—that is, the newspapers, magazines, diaries, books, broadsides, music, sculpture, and merchandise of past times, the picture is not substantiated. (Jones, Charles. W. "Knickerbocker Santa Claus." The New-York Historical Society Quarterly, October 1954, Volume XXXVIII Number Four, p. 362)
There is no evidence that it [Santa Claus] existed in New Amsterdam, or for a century after occupation. . . (Jones, Charles. W. "Knickerbocker Santa Claus." The New-York Historical Society Quarterly, October 1954, Volume XXXVIII Number Four, p. 362)
I have not found evidence of St. Nicholas in any form—in juveniles or periodicals or diaries—in the period of Dutch rule, or straight through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the year 1773. (Jones, Charles. W. "Knickerbocker Santa Claus." The New-York Historical Society Quarterly, October 1954, Volume XXXVIII Number Four, p. 362)
Jones also adds insult to injury. The traditional tale that Santa Claus is the anglicized corruption of the Dutch Sinter Klaas is also incorrect. Jones states, "And by the way, Santa Claus is not a characteristically Dutch corruption. The place it has survived from early times in Switzerland and southern Germany." (Jones, Charles. W. "Knickerbocker Santa Claus." The New-York Historical Society Quarterly, October 1954, Volume XXXVIII Number Four, p. 366)
When examined with historical facts, the oft-repeated history of Santa is so full of gross errors it ranks among histories greatest goofs.
The final death-blow to the traditional tale of Santa Claus is the belief that Santa Claus is actually the mystic Bishop St. Nicholas. We previously established that no historical evidence exists collaborating the person of St. Nicholas, but ignoring that serious blunder for a few minutes, let us investigate the fable that Santa and St. Nicholas are the same.
The truth is, there exists no factual connection from St. Nicholas to Santa Claus. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. Every serious researcher into the origin of Santa Claus verifies this fact. A few examples, among hundreds, validates our ironclad case:
Years of research confirmed that initial doubt: Santa Claus is an Americanization, all right, but not of a Catholic Saint. . . Despite a century of repetition, this story is simply untrue. . . (Siefker, Phyllis. Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997, pp. 5,7)
The dilemma was solved by transferring the visit of the mysterious man whom the Dutch called Santa Claus from December 5 to Christmas, and by introducing a radical change in the figure itself. It was not merely a "disguise," but the ancient saint was completely replaced by an entirely different character. . .With the Christian saint whose name he still bears, however this Santa Claus has really nothing to do. (Weiser, Francis X. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1952, p. 114)
Although the Dutch brought Sinta Claes [sic] with them to the New World in the seventh century, Santa Claus was not born until the nineteenth century and was an American, not a Dutch, creation. . . If Nicholas, the ascetic bishop of fourth-century Asia Minor, could see Santa Claus, he would not know who he was. (Del Re, Gerard and Patricia. The Christmas Almanack. New York: Random House, 2004, pp. 138,141)
Another serious obstacle in the "St. Nicholas is Santa Claus" legend involves the date of December 25. The Feast and Visit of St. Nicholas is celebrated on December 6 (the fictional date of his death), not December 25. Even today, St. Nicholas Day and Sinter Klaas are still celebrated on December 6. The date of St. Nicholas Day has never been December 25.
Despite the many times the Santa legend is told, the magical St. Nicholas to Santa Claus fairy-tale is simply untrue.
Where did Santa come from?
Nearly all Santa researchers agree that some traits of Santa was borrowed from Norse [Scandinavian] mythology.
Encyclopedia Britannica describes the role of Nordic mythology in the life of Santa:
Sinterklaas was adopted by the country's English-speaking majority under the name Santa Claus, and his legend of a kindly old man was united with old Nordic folktales of a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good children with presents. ("Santa Claus" Encyclopaedia Britannica 99)
Some Santa researchers associate Santa with the Norse "god" of Odin or Woden. Crichton describes Odin as riding through the sky on an eight-legged, white horse name Sleipnir. (Santa originally had eight reindeers, Rudolph was nine). Odin lived in Valhalla (the North) and had a long white beard. Odin would fly through the sky during the winter solstice (December 21-25) rewarding the good children and punishing the naughty. (Crichton, Robin. Who is Santa Claus? The Truth Behind a Living Legend. Bath: The Bath Press, 1987, pp. 55-56)
Mythologist Helene Adeline Guerber presents a very convincing case tracing Santa to the Norse god Thor in Myths of Northern Lands:
Thor was the god of the peasants and the common people. He was represented as an elderly man, jovial and friendly, of heavy build, with a long white beard. His element was the fire, his color red. The rumble and roar of thunder were said to be caused by the rolling of his chariot, for he alone among the gods never rode on horseback but drove in a chariot drawn by two white goats (called Cracker and Gnasher). He was fighting the giants of ice and snow, and thus became the Yule-god. He was said to live in the "Northland" where he had his palace among icebergs. By our pagan forefathers he was considered as the cheerful and friendly god, never harming the humans but rather helping and protecting them. The fireplace in every home was especially sacred to him, and he was said to come down through the chimney into his element, the fire. (Guerber, H.A. Myths of Northern Lands. New York: American Book Company, 1895, p. 61)
The unusual and common characteristics of Santa and Thor are too close to ignore.
An elderly man, jovial and friendly and of heavy build.
With a long white beard.
His element was the fire and his color red.
Drove a chariot drawn by two white goats, named called Cracker and Gnasher.
He was the Yule-god. (Yule is Christmas time).
He lived in the Northland (North Pole).
He was considered the cheerful and friendly god.
He was benevolent to humans.
The fireplace was especially sacred to him.
He came down through the chimney into his element, the fire.
Even today in Sweden, Thor represents Santa Claus. The book, The Story of the Christmas Symbols, records:
Swedish children wait eagerly for Jultomten, a gnome whose sleigh is drawn by the Julbocker, the goats of the thunder god Thor. With his red suit and cap, and a bulging sack on his back, he looks much like the American Santa Claus. (Barth, Edna. Holly, Reindeer, and Colored Lights, The Story of the Christmas Symbols. New York: Clarion Books, 1971, p. 49)
Thor was probably history’s most celebrated and worshipped pagan god. His widespread influence is particularly obvious in the fifth day of the week, which is named after him – Thursday (a.k.a. Thor’s Day).
It is ironic that Thor’s symbol was a hammer. A hammer is also the symbolic tool of the carpenter – Santa Claus. It is also worth mentioning that Thor’s helpers were elves and like Santa’s elves, Thor’s elves were skilled craftsman. It was the elves who created Thor’s magic hammer.
In the Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, author Francis Weiser traces the origin of Santa to Thor: "Behind the name Santa Claus actually stands the figure of the pagan Germanic god Thor." (Weiser, Francis X. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1952, p. 113)
After listing some the common attributes of Thor and Santa, Weiser concludes:
Here, [Thor] then, is the true origin of our "Santa Claus." . . . With the Christian saint whose name he still bears, however, this Santa Claus has really nothing to do. (Weiser, Francis X. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1952, p. 114)
Another interesting trait of Thor is recorded by H.R. Ellis Davidson in Scandinavian Mythology, "It was Thor who in the last days of heathenism was regarded as the chief antagonist of Christ." (Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Scandinavian Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1982, p. 133) In case you are not aware, an "antagonist" is an enemy, adversary or replacement.
The bizarre and mutual attributes of Thor and Santa are no accident.
While the pagan brush strokes of Norse mythology has painted some of the traits of Santa Claus, there exists another brush stroke coloring Santa that bids our inspection.
There is a little-known piece in the life of Santa that time and tradition has silently erased. Few people are aware that for most of his life, St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas, Christkind, et. al.) had an unusual helper or companion. This mysterious sidekick had many names or aliases. He was known as Knecht Rupprecht; Pelznickle; Ru-Klas; Swarthy; Dark One; Dark Helper; Black Peter; Hans Trapp; Krampus; Grampus; Zwarte Piets; Furry Nicholas; Rough Nicholas; Schimmelreiter; Klapperbock; Julebuk; et. al.
Though his name changed, he was always there.
Some other well known titles given to St. Nick’s bizarre companion is a demon, evil one, the devil and Satan. One of his dark duties was to punish children and "gleefully drag them to hell."
The following references are provided to demonstrate the "devil" who accompanies St. Nicholas is a well documented fact. In every forerunner of Santa this dark and diabolic character appears.
It is the Christkind who brings the presents, accompanied by one of its many devilish companions, Knecht Rupprecht, Pelznickle, Ru-Klas. . . (Del Re, Gerard and Patricia. The Christmas Almanack. New York: Random House, 2004, p. 70)
In many areas of Germany, Hans Trapp is the demon who accompanies Christkind on its gift-giving round. . . (Del Re, Gerard and Patricia. The Christmas Almanack. New York: Random House, 2004, p. 75)
Another Christmas demon from lower Austria, Krampus or Grampus, accompanies St. Nicholas on December 6. (Del Re, Gerard and Patricia. The Christmas Almanack. New York: Random House, 2004, p. 94)
Like Santa, Sinterklaas and the Dark Helper were also supposed to have the peculiar habit of entering homes through the chimney. . . (Renterghem, Tony van. When Santa Was a Shaman. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1995, p. 102)
In Sarajevo in Bosnia, Saint Nickolas appears with gifts for the children in spite of the war and shelling. He is assisted by a small black devil who scares the children. (Renterghem, Tony van. When Santa Was a Shaman. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1995, p. 102)
Ruprecht here plays the part of bogeyman, a black, hairy, horned, cannibalistic, stick-carrying nightmare. His role and character are of unmitigated evil, the ultimate horror that could befall children who had been remiss in learning their prayers and doing their lessons. He was hell on earth. (Siefker, Phyllis. Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997, p. 155)
In Holland, Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) wore a red robe while riding a white horse and carried a bag of gifts to fill the children's stockings. A sinister assistant called Black Pete proceeded Sinterklaas in the Holland tradition to seek out the naughty boys and girls who would not receive gifts. ("History of Santa Claus," < www.christmas-decorations-gifts-store.com/history_of_santa.htm? >)
The Christian figure of Saint Nicholas replaced or incorporated various pagan gift-giving figures such as the Roman Befana and the Germanic Berchta and Knecht Ruprecht. . . He was depicted wearing a bishop's robes and was said to be accompanied at times by Black Peter, an elf whose job was to whip the naughty children.("Santa Claus" Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99)
Christmas historian Miles Clement relates that no "satisfactory account has yet been given" to the origins of these demons and devils that appear with St. Nicholas.
It can hardly be said that any satisfactory account has yet been given of the origins of this personage, or of his relation to St. Nicholas, Pelzmarte, and monstrous creatures like the Klapperbock. (Miles, Clement A. Christmas in Ritual and Tradition Christian and Pagan. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1912, p. 232)
Maybe a satisfactory account has been given. Let us keep reading.
Previously, we established the peculiar fact that today’s Santa Claus and St. Nicholas are not the same. They never have been. Santa Claus is dressed in a long shaggy beard, furs, short, burly and obese. The legends of St. Nicholas portrayed a thin, tall, neatly dressed man in religious apparel. You could not possibly find two different characters.
If Nicholas, the ascetic bishop of fourth-century Asia Manor, could see Santa Claus, he would not know who he was. (Del Re, Gerard and Patricia. The Christmas Almanack. New York: Random House, 2004, pp. 138,141)
So the legends of Saint Nicholas afford but a slight clew to the origin of Santa Klaus,–alike, indeed, in name but so unlike in all other respects. (Walsh, William S. The Story of Santa Klaus. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1970, p. 54)
The startling fact is, Santa Claus is not the Bishop St. Nicholas – but his Dark Helper!
In certain German children’s games, the Saint Nicholas figure itself is the Dark Helper, a devil who wants to punish children, but is stopped from doing so by Christ. (Renterghem, Tony van. When Santa Was a Shaman. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1995, p. 105)
Black Pete, the ‘grandfather’ of our modern Santa Claus. Known in Holland as Zwarte Piet, this eighteenth-century German version, is—like his ancient shamanic ancestor—still horned, fur-clad, scary, and less than kind to children. Although portrayed as the slave helper of Saint Nicholas, the two are, in many villages, blended into one character. This figure often has the name Nikolass or Klaus, but has the swarthy appearance of the Dark Helper. (Renterghem, Tony van. When Santa Was a Shaman. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1995, p. 98)
Artist Thomas Nast is rightfully credited for conceiving the image of our modern day Santa, but Nast’s model for Santa was not the Bishop St. Nicholas but his dark companion, the evil Pelznickle.
The Christmas demon Knecht Rupprecht first appeared in a play in 1668 and was condemned by the Roman Catholic as being a devil in 1680. . . To the Pennsylvania Dutch, he is known as Belsnickel. Other names for the same character are Pelznickle, "Furry Nicholas," and Ru-Klas, "Rough Nicholas." From these names, it is easy to see that he is looked upon as not merely a companion to St. Nicholas, but almost another version of him. (Del Re, Gerard and Patricia. The Christmas Almanack. New York: Random House, 2004, pp. 93,94)
In Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures, biographer Albert Bigelow Paine, documents that Nast’s Santa was Pelznickle.
But on Christmas Eve, to Protestant and Catholic alike, came the German Santa Claus, Pelze-Nicol, leading a child dressed as the Christkind, and distributing toys and cakes, or switches, according as the parents made report. It was this Pelze-Nicol – a fat, fur-clad, bearded old fellow, at whose hands he doubtless received many benefits – that the boy in later years was to present to us as his conception of the true Santa Claus – a pictorial type which shall lone endure. (Paine, Albert Bigelow. Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures. New York: Chelsea House, 1980, p. 6)
Santa historian and author, Tony van Renterghem also documents Nast’s Santa Claus was not Saint Nicholas, but the evil Black Pete–the devil.
Thomas Nast was assigned to draw this Santa Claus, but having no idea what he looked like, drew him as the fur-clad, small, troll-like figure he had known in Bavaria when he was a child. This figure was quite unlike the tall Dutch Sinterklaas, who was traditionally depicted as a Catholic bishop. Who he drew was Saint Nicholas’ dark helper, Swarthy, or Black Pete (a slang name for the devil in medieval Dutch). . . (Renterghem, Tony van. When Santa Was a Shaman. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1995, pp. 95-96)
Santa researcher, Phyllis Siefker, echoes Renterghem’s conclusion:
It seems obvious, therefore, that Santa Claus can be neither the alter ego of Saint Nicholas nor the brainchild of Washington Irving. . . If we peek behind the imposing Saint Nicholas, we see, glowering in the shadows, the saint’s reprobate companion, Black Pete. He, like Santa, has a coat of hair, a disheveled beard, a bag, and ashes on his face. . . In fact, it is this creature, rather than Irving’s creation or an Asian saint, who fathered Santa Claus. (Siefker, Phyllis. Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997, p. 15)
By the way, St. Nicholas did not come down the chimney. It was his fur-clad, dark companion that came down the chimney. One of the reasons his sidekick was called the "Dark One" or "Black Peter" was because he was normally covered in soot and ashes from his chimney travels. The "dark companion" also carried the bag, distributed the goodies and punished the bad boys and girls.
Children [in Holland] are told that Black Peter enters the house through the chimney, which also explained his black face and hands, and would leave a bundle of sticks or a small bag with salt in the shoe instead of candy when the child had been bad. ("Saint Nicholas," Wikipedia Encyclopedia. <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas>)
It is significant that Black Peter, Pelze-Nicol, Knecht Rupprecht and all of St. Nicholas companions are openly identified as the devil.
To the medieval Dutch, Black Peter was another name for the devil. Somewhere along the way, he was subdued by St. Nicholas and forced to be his servant. (Del Re, Gerard and Patricia. The Christmas Almanack. New York: Random House, 2004, p. 44)
In Denmark, Sweden, and Norway creatures resembling both the Schimmelreiter and the Klapperbock are or were to be met with at Christmas. . . People seem to have had a bad conscience about these things, for there are stories connecting them with the Devil. A girl, for instance, who danced at midnight with a straw Julebuk, found that her partner was no puppet but the Evil One himself. (Miles, Clement A. Christmas in Ritual and Tradition Christian and Pagan. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1912, p. 202)
Thus, in parts of Europe, the Church turned Herne into Saint Nicholas’ captive, chained Dark Helper, none other than Satan, the Dark One, symbolic of all evil. (Renterghem, Tony van. When Santa Was a Shaman. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1995, p. 97)
One of the bizarre jobs of St. Nick’s devilish helper was to "gleefully drag sinners" to hell!
On the eve of December 6, the myth told that this bearded, white-haired old ‘saint,’ clad in a wide mantel, rode through the skies on a white horse, together with his slave, the swarthy Dark Helper. This reluctant helper had to disperse gifts to good people, but much preferred to threaten them with his broom-like scourge, and, at a sign of his master, would gleefully drag sinners away to a place of eternal suffering. (Renterghem, Tony van. When Santa Was a Shaman. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1995, p. 111)
It is also alarming that Santa’s popular title, "Nick," is also a common name for "the devil."
Old Nick: A well-known British name of the Devil. It seems probable that this name is derived from the Dutch Nikken, the devil..." (Shepard, Leslie A. Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. New York: Gale Research Inc. 1991, p. 650)
Nick, the devil. (Skeat, Walter W. Concise Dictionary of English Etymology. Ware: Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 1993, p. 304)
Devil: Besides the name Satan, he is also called Beelzebub, Lucifer . . . and in popular or rustic speech by many familiar terms as Old Nick . . . (Oxford English Dictionary)
Nicholas is one of the most common devil’s names in German, a name that remains today when Satan is referred as Old Nick. (Siefker, Phyllis. Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997, p. 69)
The shocking truth is Santa Claus originated from a character identified as the devil or Satan.
Something else that fashioned our modern day Santa was the popular medieval Christmas plays of the tenth through the sixteenth century. These miracle, moral, mystery and passion dramas acted out scenes from the scriptures and the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. Combining humor and religion, they flourished during the fifteenth century. It is significant that St. Nicholas was a dominant theme among these plays. Much of the myth and outlandish miracles of St. Nicholas originated from these dramas. And much of the bizarre characteristics of Santa were planted in these Christmas plays.
In the classic, Teutonic Mythology, author Jacob Grimm provides us with some revealing detail into St, Nicholas’s transformation into Santa. Notice in the following excerpt from Teutonic Mythology where Nicholas converts himself into the Knecht Ruprecht [the devil], a "man of Clobes" or a "man of Claus." Grimm states, the characters of Nicholas and Knecht Ruprecht "get mixed, and Clobes [Claus] himself is the "man."
The Christmas plays sometimes present the Saviour with His usual attendant Peter or else with Niclas [St. Nicholas]. At other times however Mary with Gabriel, or with her aged Joseph, who, disguised as a peasant, acts the part of Knecht Ruprecht Nicholas again has converted himself into a "man Clobes" or Rupert; as a rule there is still a Niclas, a saintly bishop and benevolent being distinct from the "man" who scares children; the characters get mixed, and Clobes himself acts the "man." (qtd. in Siefker, Phyllis. Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997, p. 69)
From Grimm’s account, in the early 1100’s, the transformation of St. Nicholas into Santa Claus from the devil Knecht Ruprecht was in full throttle.
There is not enough space in this book to adequately document the influence and inspiration of the medieval plays into the making of Santa, but let us examine Santa’s trademark "Ho! Ho! Ho!". Most people have no idea where this came from, and more important whom it came from. . .
In The Drama Before Shakespeare - A Sketch, author Frank Ireson, describes the popular Miracle Play. Notice the description of the devil as "shaggy, hairy," etc. (as Santa), and notice the devil’s trademark "exclamation on entering was ho, ho, ho!":
Besides allegorical personages, there were two standing characters very prominent in Moral Plays—the Devil and Vice. The Devil was, no doubt, introduced from the Miracle Plays, where he had figured so amusingly; he was made as hideous as possible by his mask and dress, the latter being generally of a shaggy and hairy character, and he was duly provided with a tail: his ordinary exclamation on entering was, "Ho, ho, ho! what a felowe [sic] am I."(Ireson, Frank. "The Drama Before Shakespeare - A Sketch." 1920 )
Siefker also collaborates the devil’s trademark "ho, ho, ho."
In these plays, the devil’s common entry line, known as the "devil’s bluster," was "Ho! Ho! Hoh!"(Siefker, Phyllis. Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997, p. 69)
The devil’s trademark "ho, ho, ho" was carried over from the early medieval Miracle Plays to the popular old English play "Bomelio," as the following lines from the play verify:
What, and a' come? I conjure thee, foul spirit, down to hell! Ho, ho, ho! the devil, the devil! A-comes, a-comes, a-comes upon me,. . .
(Dodsley, Robert. A Select Collection of Old English Plays, Vol. VI. The Project Gutenberg Ebook. < www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext06/7oep610.txt >)
Another extremely popular character dominating the medieval plays was Robin Goodfellow (Robin Hood was created from him). Robin Goodfellow was a caricature of the devil, dressed with horns, shaggy, furs, and cloven feet.
Author Gillian Mary Edwards in Hobgoblin and Sweet Puck, provides some interesting insight into Robin Goodfellow:
One of the most popular characters in English folklore of the last thousand years has been the faerie, goblin, devil or imp known by the name of Puck or Robin Goodfellow. The Welsh called him Pwca, which is pronounced the same as his Irish incarnation Phouka, Pooka or Puca. Parallel words exist in many ancient languages - puca in Old English, puki in Old Norse, puke in Swedish, puge in Danish, puks in Low German, pukis in Latvia and Lithuania – mostly with the original meaning of a demon, devil or evil and malignant spirit. . . (Edwards, Gillian Mary. Hobgoblin and Sweet Puck. London: Bles Publishers, 1974, p. 143)
In The History of a Hobgoblin, author Allen W. Wright, reveals "Robin itself was a medieval nickname for the devil" and "Robin's trademark laugh is "Ho Ho Ho!":
Robin Goodfellow appeared in more plays around 1600. And there were many 17th century broadside ballads about him. . . Robin's trademark laugh is "Ho Ho Ho!" . . . Robin itself was a medieval nickname for the devil. (Wright, Allen W. "The History of a Hobgoblin." <www.boldoutlaw.com/puckrobin/puckages.html>)
The original author is hidden today, but the devil’s trademark "Ho! Ho! Ho!" was common knowledge before the coming of Santa Claus.
Author Tony Renterghem, concludes his extensive research into the origin of Santa with the following statement:
I can only conclude that the original ancestor of our modern Santa Claus is none other than the mythological Dark Helper-a faint memory of Herne/Pan, the ancient shamanic nature spirit of the Olde Religion. (Renterghem, Tony van. When Santa Was a Shaman. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1995, p. 93)
Note: Herne or Pan is the horned god. It is common knowledge that Pan and Herne are popular names for Satan. The Satanic Bible lists Pan as one of the Infernal Names of Satan. (LaVey, Anton Szandor. The Satanic Bible. New York: Avon Books, Inc., 1969 p. 144)
After researching scores of books and material on the origin of Santa Claus, by far, the best book on this subject is Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, authored by the late University of Kansas associate, Phyllis Siefker. This is no child’s book, but a scholarly exploration into the origin of Santa Claus. It is published by the prestigious McFarland Publishers, a leading publisher of reference and academic books. This book carries no Christian bias, but is simply a secular, non Christian scholastic study. With that in mind, the following analysis by Siefkler is even more alarming:
The fact is that Santa and Satan are alter egos, brothers; they have the same origin. . . On the surface, the two figures are polar opposites, but underneath they share the same parent, and both retain many of the old symbols associated with their "father" . . . From these two paths, he arrived at both the warmth of our fireplace and in the flames of hell. (Siefker, Phyllis. Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997, p. 6)
Next we shall examine Santa in the light of the Word of God.
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