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Book review: Book explores the time-honored tradition, history of the Christmas tree

By Connie Lewis

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Dec. 15 2012 12:00 p.m. MST

"INVENTING THE CHRISTMAS TREE," by Bernd Brunner, translated by Benjamin A. Smith, Yale Univeristy Press, $18, 99 pages (nf)

Treasured Christmas memories are built on Christmas traditions. At the center of many traditions is the Christmas tree. Just as it holds a spot in the center of many December living rooms, it holds a spot at the center of Christmas traditions.

In “Inventing the Christmas Tree,” Bernd Brunner relates the history and significance of this festive symbol in holiday celebrations. Originally written in German, it was translated by Benjamin A. Smith.

Beginning with European traditions from the Middle Ages, this small gem of a book, traces the historical background of the origin of the modern Christmas tree. While there is no clear cut date that the tree became part of the celebration, there are many stories that explore the tradition and show how it has evolved over the years.

From cherry tree saplings in pots, trees hung from the ceiling, wooden pyramids and artificial trees to 19th century fir trees decorated with presents, food and candles, Brunner writes of the imagination that accompanied the evolution of evergreen trees as part of Christmas celebrations.

Delving into early myths and stories about the trees Brunner writes, “Trees have always been part of human life, both practically and symbolically.” He shows how the tree, festooned with light, becomes a symbol of the Christmas season. He writes, “In a way, the lights on the tree are an apt symbol of the birth of Jesus Christ, who was himself described as the 'light in the darkness.'”

Brunner also explores decorations, old and new, that adorn the Christmas tree. Early decorations were largely edible and moved to mass-produced ornaments as time went on. Yet, he cites a return to simple handmade ornaments. He mentions several famous trees like the New York City Rockefeller Center tree and the Jacquelyn and John F. Kennedy Nutcracker tree. But at the heart of the book is the Christmas tree as a personal celebration of the season.

After attending Brigham Young University and the University of Utah for five years and not being able to settle on just one major, Connie Lewis decided to be a writer so she could keep studying all things wonderful and new.

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