The tree was an important symbol to every Pagan culture. The oak in particular was venerated by the Druids. Evergreens, which in ancient Rome were thought to have special powers and were used for decoration, symbolized the promised return of life in the spring and came to symbolize eternal life for Christians. The Vikings hung fir and ash trees with war trophies for good luck.
Holly, ivy, and mistletoe were all important plants to the Druids. It was believed that good spirits lived in the branches of holly. Christians believed that the berries had been white before they were turned red by Christ's blood when he was made to wear the crown of thorns. Ivy was associated with the Roman god Bacchus and was not allowed by the Church as decoration until later in the Middle Ages, when a superstition said that it could help recognize witches and protect against plague arose.
In the Middle Ages, the Church would decorate trees with apples on Christmas Eve, which they called "Adam and Eve Day." However, the trees remained outdoors. In sixteenth-century Germany, it was the custom for a fir tree decorated with paper flowers to be carried though the streets on Christmas Eve to the town square, where, after a great feast and celebration that included dancing around the tree, it would be ceremonially burned.
The Christmas tree is today mostly a Normann-fir. It's being decorated with a star in the top, plaited hearts and other Christmas decorations - an old-fashioned Christmas tree should have candle lights, but many prefer electric lights caused by the danger of fire. If people have a fine little fir tree or another pretty tree at the entrance to their house, it is often decorated with electric lights in the dark month of December.
Before Christianity people and tribes had often sacred groves and trees, where they sacrificed to the gods. Those trees were often oak and ash like Yggdrasil's ash from the Norse mythology. They represented the connection between the heavenly and the earthly sphere. In the 15th and 16th century the German craft guild held a Christmas party where they placed a fir tree in their rooms and decorated it. The children were then allowed to take the gifts which hang on the branches.
In 1605 an unknown author from the southern Germany wrote that on Christmas evening were raised Christmas trees in the houses, upon which were placed roses, cut in coloured paper, apples, wafers, tinsel-gold and sugar. The custom spread slowly, and from the 17th century it is known that people in Strasbourg often used decorated trees in connection to the Christmas celebrations.
In Denmark the first Christmas tree can be traced back to 1808 where grevinde Wilhelmine from Holsteinborg Estate at Skælskør at Christmas time lit the candles on a fir tree. In Copenhagen the first Christmas tree was lit in 1811 at Frederikke Louise and Martin Lehman's house in Ny Kongensgade. Martin Lehman came from Holstein and took the custom with him to Copenhagen. At this time the custom spread to other places outside the borders of Germany. The first stories about Christmas trees in Norway are from ab. 1820.
Among the Pagan traditions that have become part of Christmas is burning the yule log. A Yule log is a large wooden log which is burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Yule or Christmas celebrations in several European cultures. In all the customs its significance seems to lie in the iul or "wheel" of the year. It can be a part of the Winter Solstice festival or the Twelve Days of Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or Twelfth Night.The Druids would bless a log and keep it burning for 12 days during the winter solstice; part of the log was kept for the following year, when it would be used to light the new yule log. For the Vikings, the yule log was an integral part of their celebration of the solstice, the julefest; on the log they would carve runes representing unwanted traits (such as ill fortune or poor honor) that they wanted the gods to take from them. The expression "Yule log" has also come to refer to log-shaped Christmas cakes, also known as "chocolate logs" or "Buche de Noël". The Yule log is related to other Christmas and Yuletide traditions such as the Ashen faggot.
photo 2008: grethe bachmann