There is more to Christmas decor than meets the eye, they are more than just a Christmas tree or a piece of tinsel and mistletoe. Almost every bit of the annual ritual for millions of celebrants around the world is somehow steeped in tradition and ancient legend.
Christine Ho of décor shop Party’s at The Square Shopping Centre in Sunninghill said that once she started researching the origins of the decorations she stocks annually, she was fascinated by its origins.
Traditionally the right time to put up a Christmas Tree is at the beginning of Advent, which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This year it falls on Sunday 27 November.
The decorations are as important as getting the date right, said Christine. But the legend around many of the elements of getting festive at home have some surprising origins, she noted.
The colour scheme of red and green is believed to have originated from the Roman festival or Saturnalia where Holly, in red and green, was used as decorations. This apparently translated into matching décor styles and colour schemes, which stuck. Another theory credits Coca Cola, who also gave us Santa’s modern look and feel, with colouring their ads in red with green borders in the 1930’s.
Christine said: “Tradition, wherever it comes from, is an important ritual that gives us emotional security and a sense of familiarity. In the times we presently live in, it could also represent an element of hope, new beginnings and togetherness in a world that seems to have tilted somewhat awry.” She has invested significantly in a variety of décor this year to prompt shoppers into turning the festive season into a festive home.
Christmas lights also have a somewhat commercial genesis, said Christine. Before electricity, candles were used on trees decoratively, sometimes with disastrous consequences. It was Thomas Edison’s business partner, Edward Johnson, who had the bright idea to adorn trees with lightbulbs.
The rest is history with around 150 million sets of Christmas tree lights sold in the United States alone every year.
Tinsel, necessary for every tree, stems from an age-old German tradition, and it used to be made from actual, flattened silver. Another piece of Germanic heritage, which found its way into festive celebrations, are garlands. Initially, during winter solstice, these were placed around to serve as inspiration to get through tough winters. It was later adopted as an element of the festive season.
Striped candy canes used to be white. And it all started in the 1600’s when Germany adopted the Christmas tree as its symbolic celebration of Christmas. Incidentally, this was also the beginning of the Christmas tree, Christine said.
Hanging the cane-shaped sweets from the tree became a tradition since. Nobody knows why stripes were introduced or whether it is true that a Cologne based sweet maker fashioned the hook after a shepherd’s rod or not.
The origins of most of what we adorn Christmas trees with today can be traced back to the tradition’s roots, said Christine. She added: “People ordinally hung apples, berries and other fruit from the trees, and these became today’s baubles and balls.”
Christine said: “There are so many traditions and legends around the holidays. From ancient festivals like Saturnalia through to Christianity and even people of other faiths. Everyone has adopted the festive season as a symbolic time of love, giving and sharing joy. And that is not just beautiful, it is important for humanity.”
To Christine, décor and tradition and Christmas holly and jolly is an expression of, ultimately, love.