Christmas Starter-Pack: The Decor Edit
Christmas just isn't the same without decking the halls with boughs of holly and other festive decor that lift the spirits of your surroundings! Read on to see FTC's curation of Xmas decor essentials.
Nothing says Christmas more than the traditional evergreen tree and the ornaments that come with it. However, the concept of a decorated tree long pre-dates the Christmas festival!
The first ever description of hanging up decorations in houses is mentioned in the descriptions of the ancient Roman festival Saturnalia (in honour of the Roman god Saturn), which originated back in 5th century BC. This tradition was then kept alive by the Pagans, disproved by Christian bishops, and redefined by the 6th century Pope Gregory the Great, who wanted to rethink the celebrations rather than banning them.
Additionally some of the present day traditions and customs of Christmas and decor also stem from the 12-day festival of Yule which was historically observed by the Germanic peoples and is connected to the Anglo-Saxon pagan event Mōdraniht which is held on what is now Christmas Eve.
Yule eventually departed from its pagan roots and underwent Christianised reformulation resulting in the term Christmastide and several present-day Christmas customs and traditions such as the Yule log - a specially selected log burnt on a hearth as a Christmas tradition in regions of Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, and North and South America.
The custom of burning the Yule log dates back to earlier solstice celebrations and the tradition of bonfires. The log is subsequently placed beneath the bed for luck and for protection from the household threats of lighting, and ironically, fire.
The other custom of Yule singing or wassailing (derived from the drink wassail, a hot mulled cider) is the practice of people going door-to-door, singing and offering a drink from the wassail bowl in exchange for gifts. This practise still exists, but has largely been displaced by what is now popularly known as carolling.
For the longest time, human civilisation has held a special place for plants and trees that stay green all year round. During ancient times, evergreen boughs were hung over doors and windows to ward off evil spirits and illnesses - traditions which now take a more aesthetic form in the various wreaths and holly boughs people decorate their front doors and living rooms with!
Back in the day, several people also believed that the Sun was a god who, every year during winter, lost his strength and the winter solstice was celebrated by Egyptians, Romans, Celts and even the Vikings because it represented that the sun god was finally getting well. These celebrations included hanging green palm rushes, evergreen boughs, and other green plants signifying the triumph of life over death.
The concept of the modern day Christmas tree is said to have originated in 16th century Germany, where evergreen trees were decorated with homemade food products, small candles and presents. With time Christians all around Europe started adopting the decorated trees into their homes during the holiday season.
German immigrants further took this tradition to the US, where initially most people rejected it because of its Pagan history. In 1659, the general court of Massachusetts even went ahead and came up with a law that made every activity, on the day of Christmas, other than the church carol, a punishable offence.
It was only in 1846 when Queen Victoria and her German husband, Prince Albert, were illustrated in London news standing around a Christmas tree with their kids that having a Christmas tree at your own house became fashionable.
In no time Christmas ornaments were being imported from Germany and the popularity of the Christmas trees was at an all-time high in the US and Europe. By the 1890s, the Woolworth’s Department store was selling $25 million worth of ornaments. With the invention of electricity came fairy lights and the Christmas trees were now glowing like stars for days on end.
Different parts of the world redefined the Christmas tree and the decorative ornaments in their own ways as well. For example, in Mexico, purchasing natural pines is a luxury not everyone can afford, and so in its place arbolito (little trees which are usually a bare branch cut from a copal tree or a shrub) are used. In Brazil, on the other hand, Christmas comes during the summer and so the trees are decorated with cotton to depict falling snow.
Some other interesting trivia reveals several symbolic meanings behind iconic modern-day Christmas decorations and ornaments; the wreaths that occupy the front door of every house during this merry season, on the other hand, have an interesting origin story of their own - they were created by accident! The excess clippings from freshly cut Christmas trees were salvaged and fashioned into wreaths that were initially placed on the trees to symbolise eternity.
Poinsettia flowers with their brilliant red hue are said to guarantee luck and fortune to the owners. Along with that, the plant is also considered a symbol of Christian devotion and represent the Star of Bethlehem, the heavenly body that led the three wise men, to the place where Christ was born. A Mexican legend talks about a girl who could only offer weeds as a gift to Jesus on Christmas Eve, and how upon bringing the weeds into church, they blossomed into the beautiful red plants we know as poinsettias - additionally known as Flores de Noche Buena (flowers of the holy night) in Mexico.
Stockings too have been an essential part of the Christmas tradition for centuries, with children hanging up sock shaped bags near fireplaces, doors or windows for Santa to fill them with toys and treats - or coal if you've been on the naughty list!
In olden days, Mistletoe in small doses (in large doses it can be lethal) was used as pain killers for cramps and as salve for ulcers and poisons. It was also believed to be associated with fertility and life since the times of the ancient Celts. Ancient ceremonies used Mistletoe to provide fertility and aphrodisiac effects and in the middle ages was hung to ward off evil spirits.
A common tradition that exists with mistletoe is said to have been perpetuated by servants back in the Victorian era where a man was allowed to kiss any woman standing underneath mistletoe, and that bad luck would befall any woman who refused the kiss. This tradition evolving from its pagan origins kept the same meaning of fertility, and was seen as a sign of a lasting relationship, or even an indication of engagement to get married between a couple.
Pinecones are widely used as decorative items for Christmas, from ornaments to table centerpieces. However, they too have a deeper meaning - pine cones symbolise the unity of a blood or chosen family in addition to being seen as a sign of hope and representing immortality.
Originally made from strands of silver alloy, Tinsel was initially used to decorate sculptures. It was only later that the material became a popular choice as a Christmas tree decoration enhancing the twinkling lights of candles with its reflective properties. Due to its demand, by the 20th century tinsel eventually began being mass produced using cheaper aluminium (which did not tarnish as easily as silver) making it more accessible to people and even substituting christmas lights at one point.
Additionally, the Christmas baubles and ball ornaments that we hand from our trees to have an interesting symbolic meaning. The balls are meant to represent apples that used to be hung from sacred evergreen trees as a sign to make the spirits of nature and the fertility of the earth return with the spring season once again.
At this point, it’s safe to say that the rich history and significance of the holiday decor we indulge in goes far beyond surface level aesthetics. What is your favourite decorating tradition this time of year?