By Mike Whittlesey

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
Not only green in summer’s heat,
But also winter’s snow and sleet.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!

Just as there are any number of ways Christmas trees are decorated during the holiday season, you’ll find several different versions of the lyrics of “O Christmas Tree.”

Decorated trees have become a seasonal tradition that date back to the Romans and ancient inhabitants of northern Europe, who saw the evergreen tree as a symbol of life in the midst of winter.

Religious historian Edwin Woodruff Tait noted that clear records of trees being used as Christmas symbols did not appear until the 1500s, as part of dramas depicting biblical themes. Plays celebrating the Nativity were linked to the story of creation and the Garden of Eden was symbolized by a “paradise tree” hung with fruit. When these celebrations were banned in many places, people began moving trees into their homes to compensate for the public celebration they could no longer enjoy.

The earliest evergreen branches used in homes were often hung with round pastries symbolizing the Eucharist. These eventually developed into the cookie ornaments that adorn German Christmas trees today.

The custom grew in popularity throughout the 1800s, with many churches setting up Christmas trees inside the sanctuary. Next to the tree often stood stacks of shelves where candles would be placed, sometimes one for each family member. Eventually, the candles were placed directly on the tree, a precursor to the lights and ornaments placed on modern-day trees.

Like the evergreen branches found in many homes this time of year, this edition of The Progress Review is filled with its own traditions, from the “Messages of Peace and Hope” authored by area pastors to “What Christmas Means to Me,” penned by fifth graders at La Porte City Elementary School. Our gift to you, dear reader, it comes with best wishes for a happy and safe holiday season!

If you have not already done so, we invite you to enjoy another holiday tradition, this one made possible by the residents of La Porte City who have adorned their homes with festive lights and decorations. The Progress Review’s “The Lights of La Porte City” slideshow, set to the music of “O Christmas Tree,” offers a reminder of what the holiday season looks like in our little corner of the world and often draws comments from those with special connections to La Porte City who find themselves far away from their hometown at Christmas. You can find it posted on our Facebook page and website (www.theprogressreview.co) for your viewing pleasure.