The Christmas Tree…
There is no evidence that the preChristian Anglo-Nordic peoples ever chopped down evergreen trees, brought them indoors, and decorated them as part of a Yuletide tradition.
Of course, worship in holy groves goes back to some of the earliest mentions of Germanic peoples in the historical record. As time rolled forward and the Germanic people began to figure more prominently in the Judeo-Hellenic literary tradition, finer details began to emerge of specific trees that, even in a sacred grove of trees, stood out as exceptionally sacred such as the Thuringian Donar’s Oak or the great ash at Uppsala in Sweden. Such trees as this are reflected in later English beliefs as those surrounding the “Apple Tree Man”, ie. one tree embodying the spirit of an orchard.
In the Old English poem “Dream of the Rood”, the crucifix assumes center stage and acts as the voice of the poem, tracing its own origins back to the tree felled in its Irminsul-like creation and constantly reminding the audience of its tree-nature.
We find the World Tree in a similar position in the Eddas, acting as the axis and measuring stick of all Creation; at the base/in the sight of which (ie. in consideration/observation of) the Divine Assembly is held and doom (judgement, law) is set.
The tree has long stood as a powerful symbol within the Anglo-Nordic psyche. At its most profound, it stood as a symbol of truth — a word that stems from the same Proto-Indo-European root as the word tree — and the holistic nature of truth. Hence, such Old Norse by-names as “Measuring Wood” and “Memory Rood”.
Another of the Tree’s Eddic by-names was “the Shelterer” and it is within the tree (or woods) called “Memory Hoard” that the last people are sheltered through the darkness and uncertainty of Ragnarok and its aftermath, to emerge into the dawning of a new age.
This last bit is exceptionally poignant in regards to the base level of experience of the winter solstice in northern climes where the long night must be endured — indeed where it must be *combated* with merriment and joy — and the return of the sun is cause for much hope and celebration.
So, while there really is no telling if our preChristian ancestors chopped down trees, brought them indoors, and decorated them in observance of the Yuletide, this is less a matter of an absence of evidence, and more one of an absence of need, in which sacred trees stood where they stood, ie. outdoors, worship was largely public and blended with highly social out of doors festivities, where Yule trees and Yule greenery naturally abounded.
There was simply no need to bring such things in-doors of the private household and relegate them to a mere household cult. At least not while such customs were still supported or at least tolerated by the king and/or the national assembly.
It should thus come as no surprise that the relatively modern tradition of the Christmas Tree — more-or-less begun by Martin Luther ironically enough in the 16th century — evolved naturally enough out of the fertile soil of the Germanic “folk-soul”, albeit it under the pressures of its environment.
Indeed, over the past 200 to 300 years the Yuletide has been experiencing a great renaissance in the wake of its diminution in status under Catholicism, where it stood secondary to the Epiphany, and its outlawing among the Puritans in England, and even more poignantly, in the U.S.A.; the latter of which did not even commonly observe Christmas well into the 18th century, but which, drawing intimately on the spirit of the Anglo-Nordic peoples and the ever-evolving tree of our indigenous culture, went on to produce some of the most influential modern lore surrounding the season.
The sacred tree was a gift of our forefathers to their Christianized descendants. And the Yuletree is the gift of those Christianized ancestors to us.
Hail the Glory-Twig!