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     Volume 4 Issue 26 | December 24, 2004 |

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What do you know about Christmas trees? Do you know how the tradition began? In Britain many people will be buying Christmas trees in the coming weeks, and in a month or so there will be a lot of trees in people's dustbins. Read the article about Christmas trees and then try to answer the questions.

This is a Christianization of the ancient pagan idea that the evergreen tree represents a celebration of the renewal of life. In Roman mosaics from Tunisia showing the mythical triumphant return from India of the life-death-rebirth deity Dionysus, the god carries a tapering coniferous tree. Medieval legends, nevertheless, tended to concentrate more on the miraculous "flowering" of trees at Christmas time. St Boniface, who converted the German people to Christianity, was said to have come across a group of pagans worshipping an oak tree. In anger, St Boniface is said to have cut down the oak tree and to his amazement a young fir tree sprung up from the roots of the oak tree. St Boniface took this as a sign of the Christian faith.

Among early Germanic tribes the Yule tradition was celebrated by sacrificing male animals, and slaves, by suspending them on the branches of trees. In Scandinavia the Viking kings sacrificed nine males of each species in sacred groves, while poorer people hung apples and buns and other small sacrifices on branches. It is likely that the Christmas tree is a continuation of this tradition.

The tradition is most widely observed in the more northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere (north of about 45°N latitude), at the winter solstice when daylight hours are very short, and temperatures often below freezing (0°C) with snow covering the ground. In northern Europe such a promise of renewal was essential at a time of death, darkness and cold.

Like many other Christmas traditions, the universally-popular Christmas tree is derived from a fusion of Christian ideas with older pagan traditions. The custom originated in Germany. According to one legend, Saint Boniface attempted to introduce the idea of trinity to the pagan tribes using the cone-shaped evergreen trees because of their triangular appearance. The tradition of hanging decorations (representing fruit or gifts) on the trees is very old, with some early reports coming from Germany's upper Rhine region, but the tradition of attaching candles is attributed to Martin Luther. A related tradition was hanging evergreen branches throughout the home. With time, these evergreen branches gave way to garlands, vines and wreaths.

Though houses were dressed at Christmas with evergreen boughs, in northern Europe, the Christmas tree was not customary in the English-speaking world. In Britain, it was introduced by King George III's German Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, but did not spread much beyond the royal family until the royal family Christmas centered round Prince Albert at Osborne House was illustrated in English magazines, and copied in the United States at Christmas 1850. Such patriotic prints of the British royal family at Christmas celebrations helped popularise the Christmas tree in Britain and among the anglophile American upper class.

Answer the following questions about the article.
1. Who is depicted in the Roman mosaics?
2. What were the pagans St. Boniface found, worshipping?
3. How did early Germanic tribes celebrate Christmas?
4. Why is the Christmas tree tradition stronger in northern parts of the Northern hemisphere?
5. According to one legend, why did St. Boniface choose the fir tree?
6. Who is said to have begun the tradition of hanging candles on trees?
7. Who introduced the Christmas tree to Britain?
8. Who popularised this tradition?

Can you guess the words for the crossword puzzle? Read the clues and try to write in the words. Remember, one letter per square.

3. A group of trees that are close together.
7. The summer ........................... is the day of the year with the most hours of daylight, and the winter ........................... is the day of the year with the fewest hours of daylight.
9. If you describe a non-British person as ..........................., you mean that they admire Britain and British culture.
12. In the Christian religion, the ........................... or the Holy ........................... is the union of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in one God.
13. A tree or bush which has green leaves all the year round.
14. A group of people with the same race, beliefs, customs and/or language.
15. An adjective to describe someone who loves their country and feels very loyal towards it.

1. A fir tree, or an artificial tree that looks like a fir tree, which people put in their houses at Christmas and decorate with coloured lights and ornaments.
2. A ........................... of different qualities, ideas, or things is something new that is created by joining them together.
4. Beliefs and activities which do not belong to any of the main religions of the world and take nature and a belief in many gods as a basis. They are older, or are believed to be older, than other religions.
5. A design which consists of small pieces of coloured glass, pottery, or stone set in concrete or plaster.
6. A god or goddess.
8. A shape with a circular base and smooth curved sides ending in a point at the top.
10. A circular decoration made from flowers and leaves. People sometimes wear ..........................s of flowers on their heads or around their necks.
11. Something that relates to or was made in the period of European history between the end of the Roman Empire in 476 AD and about 1500 AD.

1. Dionysus, 2. An oak tree, 3. Sacrificing male animals & slaves and suspending them from tree branches, 4. A promise of renewal is needed at a time of cold, darkness and death, 5. Its triangular shape, 6. Martin Luther, 7. Queen Charlotte, 8. Prince Albert


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