Friday, December 12, 2014

Christkind Decorates the Christmas Tree

The Christkind Brings the Ice Apples to decorate the Christmas Tree
Wreath made with ice apples (Eisapëfl)

I've written on a Christmas topic ever since I began my blog posts. There are things that I am rather unsure about, especially the arrival of the Christmas tree in my ancestors' homes. It is almost like searching a genealogy. Just where was the original Christmas tree conceived and, over the centuries, when did that tree's descendants move to other countries, then cross the oceans and emigrate from Germany to the rest if the world?  Progress equals brick wall - I still have no idea if my great-great grandparents had a Christmas tree in the years before they emigrated. I like to think they did.

Some sources say that the Christmas tree developed from a pagan tradition which was adopted by Christians as a holy symbol. The custom does seem to have started in northern Germany and then spread south, having been a matter of contention between Lutherans and Catholics for a time.  That's not very specific, is it.

This year the book, "Inventing the Christmas Tree" came to my attention.  It didn't solve the puzzle for me, but I have chosen a few interesting facts about the Christmas tree and its decoration, although I'm no closer to knowing the exact date of the Christmas tree custom in Kreis Saarburg.

The Tree

Many of thee common folk, I read, had no separate parlor room for a Christmas tree and in 17th and 18th century many hung the tree from the rafters although it was hard to light the candles if the tree was hung upside down. This custom seems to have originated in Slavic countries, such as Poland.

For those Christmas trees that that were placed on the floor, a tree stand of some kind was needed. Some of the methods used for this were: a wooden cross painted green or covered with moss or stones where a hole had been drilled into the center of the cross pieces, a stool with a hole in it, a tub of water or a bucket with wet sand, In times of adversity.  Some wedged the trunk into the hub of a cartwheel or cut a rutabaga in half and drilled a hole to accommodate the tree. In the 1860s, cast iron stands became more common, shaped to resemble gnarled roots.

Decorating the Tree 

According to a story from the Lorraine region of France, a variety of apple is cultivated in France in the Alsace and Lorraine regions as well as in the Rhineland area of my ancestors. It is known as the Christ's apple (Christapfel) or ice apple (Eisapfel), and this fruit traditionally was used to decorate the Christmas tree since it was red and lasted well through the winter.

In 1858 a drought in the Alsace region caused the ice apple harvest to be lost. The famous glass blowers of the 18th and 19th century from Meisenthal in Lorraine took the opportunity to make red glass spheres of the same size that could be used on a tree instead of the apples.

It is also possible that the origin of such ornaments can be found in the Thuringian forest. There the craft of blown glass can be traced to the beginning of the seventeenth century, when immigrants from Bohemia built their first huts."

The Red Eisapfel

Origin: very old, widespread apple type from Germany
Other names: Heart apple, Christ apple, ice apple, red warrior
Uses: Eating, cooking, dried.
Fruit: Midsize to large, color gold-green, turning a dark red if left on the tree long enough. 
The taste is sweet as the apple ripens from October to January 

Whether you have a fresh tree covered in red glass balls or some other beloved decoration in your home this year, it is my wish that your Christmas is as filled with pleasure as those of old when the Christkind brought the Christmas tree and decorated it with red apples.

Inventing the Christmas Tree by Bernd Brunner, 2011
Christmas in Alsace by Jean-Claude Colin and photos by Christophe Hamm
Christmas in Alsace by Jean-Claude Colin and photos by Christophe Hamm


  1. The Eisapfel is new to me. I come from further north up the Rhine and there are many stories to do with the first Christmas tree and decorations.

    I know that the decorated tree in the UK was introduced when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg and Gotha and has become a firm favourite.
    I don’t like many British Christmas traditions, they are too garish for me.

    Here’s wishing that you and your family have a wonderful Christmas, whichever tradition you follow.

  2. There are a lot of stories about Christmas customs. I just wish somebody could tell me what traditions the birth of my great-great grandmother threw a wrench into when her mother went into labor on Christmas Eve 1827.

    I do like the German Christmas celebration - even though my family celebrated it in Wisconsin. It was a family time that I still treasure. Evidently Austria is trying to preserve the old ways. Perhaps you have read this article in the newspaper; I enjoyed reading about it in the German Blog. BBC News: Austria Campaign to Save Christkind from Santa Claus at

    Thank you for the lovely Christmas wishes, Friko. I wish the same to you.


  3. I heard this same information from the Program Director when she talked about French Christmas customs during our Seine River Cruise at Christmas time