Notes from the White County Historical Society

By Charlene Shields

Notes from the White County Historical Society as they appear in "The Carmi Times."

Copyright ©2000 by "The Carmi Times" Permission to reprint granted to Cindy Birk Conley and the ILGenWeb by Barry Cleveland, editor, "The Carmi Times."

About Christmas trees

An item in the local newspaper says 80 percent of American homes have a
Christmas tree at this season. I've always read the Germans were
responsible for bringing this custom to our land.

However, when I started researching, I found the custom rooted in
paganism, as are so many of our so-called Christian customs.
According to the late John Allen, who wrote widely on Southern Illinois
customs, decorating trees goes back at least 5,000 years, when Egyptians
placed ornaments on palm fronds and used them for decorations at the
winter solstice. The Greeks and Romans of those days used evergreens for
the same purpose. Later, the Germans and Scandinavians started
observing the winter solstice by using trees.

In the 1500s Martin Luther decorated a small evergreen in his home and
thus made the tree a part of the Christmas story.

The first known Christmas tree in Southern Illinois was at the Gustave
Koerner home in Belleville in 1833. They took a small sassafras tree
and decorated it with ribbons and colored paper, nuts and candy, and
some candles.

Candles became a staple for trees. Also, some people put cotton on the
tree to represent snow. Early on, presents were tied in the tree rather
than being placed at the base. All of this made a fire hazard. Early
newspapers carry the tragic stories of Christmas tree fires when
children were burned to death.

I still have the old blackened-tinsel star which graced the top of my
first Christmas tree. The tree had no lights because we had no
electricity on the farm, but we never put candles on a tree.
The old-time, country Christmas tree has been replaced by the fancy
theme tree, with sophisticated color schemes and expensive baubles.
Although many of today's youngsters are jaded by an over-supply of
presents all year long, they still become excited at the sight of a
Christmas tree.... And we old-timers have our memories of Christmases


The Genealogy Library will be closed until February 2001. Watch for
announcements about our opening and new hours.

Address letters to Genealogy, White County Historical Society, PO Box
121, Carmi, IL 62821.

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The Coordinator for the White County, Illinois ILGenWeb page is Cindy Birk Conley

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