December’s festive spirit is symbolized by the stately Christmas Tree. This month ChasingART will celebrate this noble tradition by exploring, through the creativity of artists, how an evergreen conifer – spruce, pine or fir – came to hold a special place in our homes and in our hearts at Christmastime.
To be clear, we are not the first to use evergreens as symbols. Long before the advent of Christianity, people believed that evergreen trees held mystical powers and would protect their homes and family from illness and the dangers of ghosts and witches,
Ancient Egyptians decorated their homes with green palm rushes at the solstice, in celebration of the sun god, Ra. Ancient Romans also used the time of solstice to honour Saturn, the god of agriculture, with of a feast called Saturnalia. Evergreen boughs were their decoration of choice for their homes and temples. The ancient Celts believed that evergreen boughs signified everlasting life. The Vikings believed that evergreens belonged to their sun god, Balder.
Fast forward to the 16th century, Germany. Somewhere along the way from ancient times, evergreen trees became embedded in the Christmas tradition. It is said that Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, had the “bright” idea to add candles. One winter night, when on a walk, he looked up and was entranced by the beauty of the stars above. He decided that he would recreate the scene inside his home with lighted candles on his Christmas tree. A lovely idea, even if a fire hazard.
Join me as I look through the past and see how artists used garlands, candy canes, stars, angels, ribbons, and tinsel to create Christmas trees and memorable, even poignant, moments.
The first painting is by Austrian painter and lithographer, Karl Reichert (1836-1918).
He sometimes used a pseudonym of J. Hartung and R. Heinz to sign his paintings.
There is a joyful simplicity in the vision of a family of dogs gathered around the tree. It is a reminder that we share this world with fellow creatures whose need for love and belonging is as deep and profound as ours.
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”