Christmas lights adorn San Pedro

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 10, No. 50            December 20, 2001

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40-foot Christmas tree illuminates the holiday spirit

The spirit of Christmas came alive last Wednesday evening as the San Pedro Town Council kicked off San Pedro's official holiday season with the traditional lighting ceremony. This year, those attending were witness to the lighting of Barrier Reef Drive as well as a 40-foot Christmas tree at Central Park. Councilor Domingo Perez is responsible for arranging this wonderful addition to the town's festivities. The councilor's friend Miguel Urbina Jr., of Goat Hill Farm in Orange Walk, generously donated the two-ton tree which required 1500 lights to decorate. Caribbean Depot provided the shipping of the tree to San Pedro at no cost.

    During the ceremony, Councilor Perez told the crowd, "We hope the tree brightens up your hearts," further explaining how people from all the districts of Belize make up our community. To demonstrate this, each district has a Christmas greeting hanging on the tree. Local businesses and organizations are encouraged to add their own greetings and messages to the tree as well. Anyone wishing more information may contact the councilor at the Ambergris Caye Planning Committee by calling 2258.

The Christmas Tree tradition

    The tradition of decorated Christmas trees goes back many, many years. Ancient, pre-Christian winter festivals used greenery, lights and fires to symbolize life and warmth in the midst of cold and darkness. The most splendid symbol of a modern Christmas is the brilliantly decorated evergreen tree with strings of multicolored lights.

   The use of evergreens and wreaths as symbols of life was an ancient custom of the Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews, among other people. Tree worship was a common feature of religion among the Teutonic and Scandinavian people of northern Europe before their conversion to Christianity. They decorated houses and barns with evergreens at the new year to scare away demons, and they often set up trees for the birds in winter. For these northern Europeans, this winter celebration was the happiest time of the year because it signified that the shortest day of the year, December 21, had passed. They knew the days would start to get longer and brighter. The month during which this festival took place was named Jol, from which the word "Yule" is derived. Yule has come to mean Christmas in some countries.

   The modern Christmas tree seems to have originated in Germany during the Middle Ages. In a medieval play about Adam and Eve, a main prop was a fir tree hung with apples. Called the "Paradise tree" it represented the Garden of Eden. German families set up a Paradise tree in their homes on December 24th, the feast day of Adam and Eve. On it they hung wafers, symbolizing the bread distributed at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, or Communion, in churches. Because the Christmas holiday followed immediately, candles representing Christ as the light of the world were often added to the tree. Eventually cookies and other sweets were hung instead of wafers.

   In the same room as the tree, Germans kept a Christmas pyramid made of wood, with shelves to hold figurines. The pyramid was also decorated with evergreens, candles and a star. By the 16th century, the pyramid and the Paradise tree had merged, becoming the Christmas tree so popular today.

   The Christmas tree was introduced into England early in the 19th century and was made popular by Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria. The trees were decorated with candles, candies, paper chains, and fancy cakes which were hung from the branches on ribbons.

    German settlers brought the Christmas tree custom to the American colonies in the 17th century. By the 19th century its use was quite widespread. Trees were also popular in Austria, Switzerland, Poland and Holland. In China and Japan, Christmas trees were introduced by Christian missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries. There, they were decorated with intricate paper designs.

    Many thanks to Councilor Perez and the San Pedro Town Council for their efforts in promoting this wonderful Christmas tradition.
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