Christmas tree

Photo: Pixabay / Free-Photos

The first lighting of a Christmas tree was in 1812 in the Prague villa of the director of the Theater of the Estates, Jan K. Liebich.

Photo: Martina Schneibergová

Thirty years later, they were being sold commonly in Prague and were referred to as Christ's trees. They first caught on among wealthy Czech families, and started appearing in Moravia around the turn of the 20th century.

The custom made its way to the Czech Lands from Germany, where it had spread from town to town in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 19th century and to the middle of this one, Christmas trees were mainly fir, which in the present day due to its scarcity has been replaced by the sturdier spruce and pine.

The practice of putting up lit Christmas trees in public places caught on in Europe after World War I. According to traditional accounts, the first public Christmas tree was erected in Plzen in 1925. This practice quickly spread during the First Republic to other Czech and Moravian towns and villages.

Another Christmas greenery tradition besides the Christmas tree is mistletoe.


Photo: public domain

These ever-green plants drew the attention of our ancestors, as they seemed mysterious to them - growing high in the crowns of trees, with its fruit of white berries like pearls which actually ripen in December. And because it was mysterious, it had to have magical effects. It was believed then that it protected against fires, and it was hung in homes to keep out witchcraft and evil spirits. Mistletoe was also believed to bring good luck, just like horseshoes or four-leaf clover.

In the Middle Ages, it was used as a significant medicinal plant, and modern science has aknowledged the medicinal properties of misteltoe. It contains a substance for lowering blood pressure and relieving dilation of vessels, a substance which is extracted for the producton of medicine for the treatment of arteriosclerosis.

A lot of legends also exist about mistletoe. According to one of them, mistletoe was once a tree, of whose wood the cross on which Christ died was made. The tree then shriveled up with shame, changing into a plant that pours down good fortune on all who pass under it. Mistletoe also brings good luck to those who recieve it as a gift, but not to those who only buy it.

Christmas mistletoe grows on leafy trees that lose their leaves in the Fall and its use as a decorative Christmas plant spread to Europe from England. The custom is still held in the Czech Lands, and people affix silver, gold or green sprigs of mistletoe to chandeliers or put in a little vase on the table.

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  • Czech Christmas

    Radio Prague International prepared for you selection of articles on Christmas traditions.