We call it the “Christmas” tree, but the evergreen that we haul into our homes and decorate is only loosely and lately associated with Christianity. At one time it was prohibited by Christian officials, who saw it properly as a pagan expression. Probably for this reason, we see it in public spaces, and people of different faiths or none at all are free to enjoy the tradition without compromising their own beliefs. An evergreen infusing the room with pungent aromas, its lights twinkling in a dimly lit room, has instinctive and intense appeal during the dark days of December. Not just the tree but also decorating it is a joy. And all joy should incorporate sparkling wine. Mine will be Ruggieri Gold Label Prosecco di Valdobiadene.
The ancient peoples in the Northern hemisphere surely knew the comfort of wine. Nevertheless, we can easily imagine how the winter solstice, the longest night of the year that occurs on the 21st or 22nd of December, must have provoked anxiety and created hardship. The sun god was frighteningly weak but would hopefully gather strength after that darkest night. Evergreen trees reminded the ancients that spring would return and with it all of the plants on which their lives depended.
The Egyptians filled their homes with palm rushes to honor the god Ra, who would revive over the coming months when life would once again triumph over death. The Romans honored Saturn, the god of agriculture, with evergreen boughs to insure that orchards would later be fruitful. To remind themselves that not all vegetation was dead, the Druids in Northern Europe also decorated with evergreen boughs, while the Vikings in Scandinavia saw evergreens as the favored plant of their sun god Balder.
The Germans were the first to incorporate the evergreen tree into the celebration of Christmas in the 16th Century, and the German reformer Martin Luther is credited with adding candles to the branches. But in England, Oliver Cromwell was adamant that “Christmas” trees and carols were “heathen traditions.” In the U.S., William Bradford, the Puritan Governor of the Plymouth Colony, called such expression “pagan mockery.” Only the Germans, who settled in Pennsylvania, decorated community trees and those in private homes.
But in 1846, Queen Victoria and her German husband Prince Albert began to change attitudes when they put up a Christmas tree in their home, signaling on both coasts, theirs and ours, that the tree was good and beautiful. Americans began to agree, but only slowly. Most Americans continued to think that “Christmas” trees were unacceptable pagan symbols.
So here we are today, a tree in most every store and home. Ask ten people on the street why they have a “Christmas” tree in their homes, and you’ll likely get ten different answers. But the prevailing one would be that they are beautiful. They represent both historical continuity and personal tradition, the ornaments often a collection of those inherited from deceased parents or hand-crafted by the family’s schoolchildren.
So however you celebrate to alleviate the burden of winter, I wish you joy and renewal. And to complement the season, you can find delicious Ruggieri Gold Label Prosecco di Valdobiadene in the website store or by calling me at 800-700-6227.