Though it misses being one of Christmas’ oldest traditions by about a thousand years, the Christmas tree is without doubt one of the season’s most beloved and enduring symbols. While it took some time for the tree to become a standard part of the Christmas holiday, the use of an evergreen tree in European celebrations of winter (often in anticipation of returning warmth and sun) predates the Christianization of the continent and even the founding of the religion itself by centuries.
The Vikings of Scandinavia and their celebration of Yule, along with several other similar festivals observed by Germanic peoples, provide the basis for many of the customs that we, today, assign to the Christmas holiday. The use of mistletoe, the eating of ham, and the observation of twelve days of celebration are all originally part of these celebrations.Even Santa Claus is rumored to have Nordic origins, a combination of the belief in Thor – who was among the gods celebrated at Yule and rode across the sky in a chariot pulled by large-horned goats – and Old Man Winter, whose hooded fur coat and long beard certainly sound like familiar elements of a another beloved Christmas icon. But even with all of that, the tree remains perhaps the most important element borrowed from Scandinavian celebrations when it comes to how we decorate for the holiday season.