We have put up our Christmas tree. I have some decorating advice for those who are preparing to do this. I learned this from a television show, but I do it every year and it works. Here it is: hang shiny glass balls on the inside of the tree. They will not be noticeable as ornaments, but will reflect the light and make your tree look far more glittery and wonderful than it otherwise would. Just put plenty of them right around the trunk all the way up.
We have ornaments made of paper, cloth, beeswax, clay, wood, porcelain, metal, papier mache, and even plastic. We like to put them up and remember — this was made by the director of Ice Wolf the year #2 son had the lead. This was from choir camp at Montreat. This was made for us by a beloved baby-sitter. This was given to us by Grandma.
My husband thinks putting a tree in the house is absolutely insane, and after years of strife on the subject I gave in and we use an artificial tree. The first year that we were married, I took some of his nieces and nephews to get the tree. They had been living in Texas for a couple of years, and told me that they had had Christmas trees before, in their classrooms at school. As it turned out, those were paper trees on the wall. When we bought a real tree and put it first into our car and then into our house, they were astounded. They had never encountered anything so amazing and bizarre. I was probably their crazy aunt. Their crazy American aunt. They have all grown up into splendid young men and women by now, but I often think of that day when Christmas is near.
The Christmas tree is a German custom. Some say that Martin Luther introduced the custom, but this is not a plausible story. The tradition is older than Christmas, and the church sensibly co-opted it for Christmas celebrations because — well, hey, who would join a church if they had to give up decorating trees to do it? When Prince Albert introduced a Christmas tree to Queen Victoria in 1840, the idea became fashionable in England and then in the United States.
In the town where I live, the first Christmas tree was put up in 1869 (if I remember correctly) by a German immigrant. A clever toymaker who also had some good ideas about marketing, he charged people a dime to come see his tree, and then gave them a toy as a gift.
In honor of this, I want to offer you another you another German hymn. Of course, you already know “O Tannenbaum” and “Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger,” and perhaps “O Come Little Children.” From these beloved tunes, you could easily get the impression that German carols are, well, dull.
By no means. Here is “Comfort, Comfort Ye, My People,” a fine Advent hymn by Johannes Olearius:
Most of us like to sing this, nowadays, in a very jazzy, syncopated style. The text features the beautiful words from Isaiah, and in all it has a very modern sound. However, it was actually published in 1671 in one of the most important early German hymnals. Catherine Winkworth translated it into English in the 19th century. While it is possible to find the earlier, less jazzy form of the tune, I don’t intend to help you do that, because it is much cooler this way. Steel drums are of course the perfect accompaniment. Dancing optional.