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The Pagan Christmas Tree

The custom of having a tree as a central focal piece in winter holiday celebrations can be traced back hundreds of centuries. The ancient Egyptians had a custom of bringing branches from palm trees into their homes on the shortest day of the year each December. The Chinese and Hebrews from ancient history had similar traditions, too.

Evergreens were thought to have power over death because their green never faded. These trees were considered to be so powerful that they could defeat winter demons and hold back death and destruction.

Because of their power and tenacity, evergreens were also believed to encourage the Sun's return and were therefore placed around the home, both inside and out.

The ancient Egyptians didn't have evergreen trees, but they had palms -- and the palm tree was the symbol of resurrection and rebirth. They often brought the fronds into their homes during the time of the winter solstice.
Trees for Yule and what they mean:
Oak : Endurance, Strength, Triumph, Protection.

Yew : Last Day of Solar Year; Death

Silver Fir: Winter Solstice Day; Birth.

Birch: Month following Winter Solstice; Beginnings.
December Spells and Rituals - December Lore - December Calendar  -  Christmas Magic
Decorating the Tree

During the Roman festival of Saturnalia, celebrants often decorated their homes with clippings of shrubs, and hung metal ornaments outside on trees. Typically, the ornaments represented a god -- either Saturn, or the family's patron deity. The laurel wreath was a popular decoration as well. 

In other cultures a living tree was brought into the home so the wood spirits would have a place to keep warm during the cold winter months.

Bells were hung in the limbs so you could tell when a spirit was present. Food and treats were hung on the branches for the spirits to eat and a five-pointed star, symbol of the five elements, was placed atop the tree.

Early Germanic tribes decorated trees with fruit and candles in honour of Odin for the solstice. These are the folks who brought us the words Yule and wassail, as well as the tradition of the Yule Log!

The tradition of placing tinsel on the tree comes from an old legend. Apparently, spiders were not allowed near the Yule tree - not even close enough to get a peek of it. Needless to say, this upset them greatly, so they complained. In some versions of the story they complain to the Christ-child, in others, they complain to the Goddess… either way, they were allowed admittance to the tree.

Overjoyed by their victory, the spiders climbed around the tree, wrapping it in glistening webs. The Christ-child (or Goddess, depending on the story) was so delighted by their creativity that the webs were transformed into strands of silver (i.e. tinsel).

In ancient times, the tree was decorated with
symbols of the gifts the people wanted to receive
from the Gods...

Acorns, Oak Leaves, and Suns were
representations of the Sun God.

Birds and Bird Nests represented fertility as
well as the return of the migrating flocks of
birds in the Spring.

Candles (and later, lights) were used to
welcome back the Sun God and to encourage the
sun to return.

Crescent Moons and Silver Balls represented
the Mother Goddess in her many forms

Flowers, even the Poinsetta, represented the
hope of the coming or Spring.

Frogs, particularly Tree Frogs were for calling
Spring back, since the call of the tree frog is
one of the earliest signs of Spring.

Fruit represented a bountiful harvest as well as
the coming season of renewal and birth.

Harps represented the continuity handed down
by traveling Bards.

Horns, drums and other musical instruments
symbolized the 'Blowing in the Yule' and also
represented the joyous music that welcomes the
Sun God.

Nuts represented a bountiful harvest.

Toads, especially when hung upside down, were
considered strong protection for the family.

Fertility symbols such as eggs, antlers, horns
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From Mystic Moon Coven and other sources
From Mystic Moon Coven and other sources