I always thought that the Christmas tree, which gives a special pleasure in any home, was a Victorian thing, introduced by Prince Albert in the early 19th century. But reading Niall Mac Coitir’s fascinating book Irish Trees - Myths, Legends and Folklore* I learned that legend has it that the idea of the Christmas fir tree first came to Martin Luther. After walking one Christmas Eve under a clear winter sky lit by 1,000 stars, he set up for his children a tree with countless candles as an image of the starry heaven whence Christ came. However, the first known record of a modern Christmas tree comes from Strasbourg in 1605 when fir trees were set up and decorated.
Perhaps the Christmas tree was a more modern expression of an older link between the evergreen pine with its bright flaming wood and the birth of the new year and the new sun.
In Ireland, AT Lucas records several instances in counties Cork and Kerry of logs of bog pine being especially burnt on Christmas Eve to provide a good blazing fire. In Carbery the Bloc Nollag (Christmas Log ) was often made of pine, and the priest would have pine and palm in the church. In Maigh Cuilinn, Co Galway, pieces of dry pine wood would be used as candles at Christmas time ‘on account of the light it gave off’.
* Irish Trees, Myths, Legends and Folklore, by Niall Mac Coitir, (original water-colours by Grania Langrishe ), published by the Collins Press, Cork in 2003. Due to its popularity this very fine book was reprinted the same year.