WARNING: SANTA SPOILER ALERT!
Many of the traditions that Westerners hold so dear during the holiday season actually stem from German folklore. A Christmas tree, commonly the evergreen fir tree, has been used to celebrate winter festivals (both Christian and Pagan) for thousands of years. Some pagans would use the tree or its branches as decoration in their homes to remind them of the spring time, as the evergreen trees were some of the only trees that remained green all year round. In many parts of Germany, it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. The use of the evergreen tree in connection to Christmas at the winter solstice is believed to have originated in Germany in the 1500’s. Even from so long ago, many references exist to people, rich or poor, celebrating and decorating with Christmas trees. Over the next few centuries, the tradition grew and spread across Europe.
The tradition of decorating the Christmas tree also originates in Germany. Germans from that time believed that light, as well as evergreens, kept away evil spirits; so the two easily went together hand in hand. However, it was actually Martin Luther who, while strolling at night, noticed the stars shining through the pine needles and popularized the idea of putting lights on the trees in decoration. If families could afford it, they would decorate the tree with paper or apples, anything to bring out more color.
Germans also have the legend, and tradition, of the pickle ornament, though this has changed over the years and has largely been replaced with other activities. As legend goes, German parents would hide a pickle ornament deep in the branches of the Christmas tree. In the morning, everyone knew that the most observant child would receive an extra gift from St. Nicholas. The one to find the pickle ornament traditionally received good luck for the next year; similar to the King Cake during lent in France.
Now anyone familiar with the tale of Santa Claus knows that he arrives Christmas Eve, puts the presents under the tree, eats the cookies left out for him, and escapes through the chimney. In the morning, the kids all open their presents. This is the tale told to children in America or other parts of Europe. However, the German legend and Christmas customs follows a different timeline. The German St. Nick doesn’t slide down the chimney on Christmas Eve, instead he arrives on the 5th or 6th of December. In Germany, as it is in other places, Christmas Eve is celebrated far more than Christmas Day.