A Treasury of Christmas Carols


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The Paradise Tree

The actual origin of the Christmas tree may be the paradise play, featuring the Paradise Tree (the "Paradeisbaum"). In medieval times, morality plays were performed all over Europe, as a way of teaching the lessons of the Bible. These plays, which showed the creations of man and the fall of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, was performed every year on December 24th. An apple tree was a necessary prop, but performed in winter, when all the fruit trees were bare, the actors used evergreen branches hung with apples and small white wafers representing the Holy Eucharist the promise of salvation. These wafers were later replaced by little pieces of pastry cut in the shapes of stars, angels, hearts, flowers, and bells. Eventually other cookies were introduced bearing the shapes of men, birds, roosters and other animals. Accordingly, the faithful began to put up trees in their own houses on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve. It is said that in sections of Bavaria, fir branches and little trees, decorated with lights, apples and tinsel are still called Paradeis.

Christmas greenery was not to be brought into the house until Christmas Eve in most traditions - although this was probably more respected in theory than in operating fact. It was however to be removed from the house before Twelfth Night or January 6. The trees were not burned and certainly the holly and ivy used in decorating the house was never burned in the fireplace. In some parts of Ireland, the holly was kept and burnt under the pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

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