Christmas Tree at the House of Blackheads (2014)

Normally, you’d be scorned for chopping down trees, propping them up in your living room, and celebrating as they slowly die on the rug. But do that in December and honey, you got yourself a beloved Christmas tradition.

As customary as it’s become, you can’t deny the inherent strangeness of the Christmas tree. How did a holiday celebrating the Christ Child’s birth in Bethlehem become associated with the fir tree—of which there were approximately zero in Bethlehem?

It is believed that the decoration of fir trees was first established by the Brotherhood of Blackheads (which was neither a punk rock band nor a society for the acne-afflicted). In 1510, the Blackheads chopped down a tree and moved it to the center of Riga (Latvia) to be burned in celebration of the Winter Solstice. Once they’d lugged it there, however, they noticed that the branches were awfully close to the surrounding buildings and that it might put a damper on the festivities if they burned their city to ash.

Supposedly, while the men had their backs turned, arguing about what to do with the tree, some children snuck up and covered it with flowers and fruit and unraveled mittens. Instead of being sent home with cold hands and red bottoms, they were praised by the Brotherhood for it. Other decorations were added to the tree, and it delighted all on Christmas Day.

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