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Today in
S.C.V. History
March 21
1837 - Ysabel Varela born in Placerville; became second wife (and widow) of SCV landowner Ygnacio del Valle. [story]

Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Dec 6, 2015

DianneErskineHellrigelIn pagan times, people brought evergreens into their homes to keep away evil spirits, ghosts, witches and sickness. They would hang evergreen boughs in their windows and over their doors for protection. They celebrated the winter solstice, and many people believed in a sun god. They believed that during the winter solstice, the sun god had become weak and sick. The evergreen boughs reminded them that the sun god would be strong again when the days became longer and warm.

Germans began the tradition of bringing evergreen trees into their homes. They added candles to their trees in the 16th Century.

The first Christmas tree in America was in 1747 in Pennsylvania. German settlers brought the tradition with them, but the early Americans saw it as a pagan symbol and did not accept the idea.

The Puritans tried to stamp out anything of pagan origin including Christmas carols, decorated trees and decorations. People were fined for hanging any decorations. This continued into the 19th Century. Eventually the influx of Germans and Irish immigrants undermined this Puritan thought.


Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, 1848

Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, 1848

In England, Queen Victoria’s family was seen in the London News standing around a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. Thus, the Christmas tree became popular in London and the East Coast of America.

By the 1890s, fancy, expensive German ornaments were being imported to the United States. Then the Czechs began blowing exceptional glass ornaments, and these began slowly replacing homemade ornaments.

While the European trees averaged about 4 feet high, the trees in the U.S. were of a grand, floor-to-ceiling height and were decorated with lots of homemade ornaments, nuts, berries, cookies and popcorn.

christmastree02The Russians and Ukrainians added spider webbing and spider ornaments because of a tale of an old woodsman who had no money for decorations for his tree, so he left it outside overnight, not wanting his wife and children to be disappointed. During the night, spiders spun beautiful webs all over the tree, and a light mist froze on the webs, making them look like crystal webs in the morning.

With the introduction of electricity, we invented Christmas lights and forgot about the nuts and berries. Our ornaments became bigger and brighter, and we tossed in some tinsel to reflect the light.

Our Christmas trees glowed for days and days. Christmas trees in every home, every square and town became an American tradition. The White House has trees in almost every room.

christmastree05Even the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is a historical tradition dating to the Great Depression. The first tree had no lights, but today’s spectacular tree has more than 25,000 Christmas lights.

Growing up, my family would secretly put up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, following their European traditions, and take it down Jan. 5, the 12th Day of Christmas.

I prefer to put up my tree the first week of December and enjoy it throughout the month. My Christmas decorations have grown over the years, and it takes me four days to decorate the yard and three days to decorate the tree and the interior of the house, so I intend to enjoy it for many weeks during the season.

Besides, an old European superstition says that if decorations are taken down before the New Year begins, bad luck will befall everyone in the house. So, keep those decorations up until 12th night. And have a very happy holiday.



Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.


christmastree04christmastree06 christmastree07 christmastree03

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