The Christmas Tree
For families in North America, Germany and other parts of Europe, the Christmas tree is the symbol of the Christmas season. Other evergreens have been a part of mid-winter festivals long before Christ. They played a symbolic part because they stayed green and alive when other plants appeared dead and bare. They represented everlasting life and hope for the return of spring. Primitive European tribes hung evergreens above their doors to offer the wandering winter spirits shelter within their homes in hopes of receiving good fortune and good health in return. The Romans decorated their homes with the greens at the Festival of Saturnalia and at the Kalends of January, their New Year. They exchanged evergreen branches with friends as a sign of good luck. The Druids viewed evergreens as sacred, a symbol of life itself.
When Christmas came about, we incorporated, rather than dismissed, many of these practices as Christmas customs. Of course, this was done only if these activities and items were consider harmless and availed themselves to a Christian interpretation.
The use of evergreens was and is most widespread in England and Germany. We can trace it back at least 500 years ago when religious meaning began to be associated with these plants.