Possible occult origins of Christmas decorations

  • Question 157, from Samantha

    Why do Christians have Christmas tree baubles when I’ve heard that they derive from “witch balls”?

    Several pre-Christian traditions were reinvented, or ‘Christianised’ as Christmas was established. The date of Christmas was established as the 25 December, partly to supersede the Roman festival of Saturnalia1. And it is notable that even certain elements within the birth stories of Jesus contained in the gospels have parallels in pagan religion2. However, the link between Christmas tree baubles and so-called ‘witch balls’ is harder to prove.

    Like the Christmas tree itself, glass baubles seem to have originated in Germany. The practice of having a decorated evergreen tree in the home was a German tradition from the middle ages. It originates from the probably-legendary story about St Boniface who sought to convert Germanic tribes in the eighth century.

    Boniface is alleged to have cut down a sacred oak tree during the winter, and hailed an evergreen tree growing in the oak’s place as a symbol of Christ, the ‘ever-living’ Saviour. As such, the evergreen replaced the oak at the centre of midwinter festivities, by those Germans who had converted.

    The Christmas tree was apparently ‘imported’ to Britain by Prince Albert, husband of the British Queen Victoria, in 1840. Albert was German and the presence of an evergreen tree was a traditional part of the German festival by that point. The practice soon spread to the USA and other parts of the world. According to claims of modern ornament-makers, glass baubles were invented in Lauscha, Germany, in 1847. They soon became popular in Europe, and then in the USA after Frank Woolworth, of Woolworths fame, began importing them.

    Like a Christmas bauble, a ‘witch ball’ is a hollow sphere of glass. Apparently they were traditionally hung in the windows of the home to ward off evil spirits or curses, usually having been ‘blessed’ by a ‘witch’. It’s not known how widespread their use was in folk traditions. They have undergone a bit of a revival due to the modern-day rise of Wicca as contemporary belief system.

    The provenance of ‘witch balls’ is hard to ascertain. They may be a more modern invention with exaggerated claims being made for their history. Obviously, if this is the case, claiming that baubles are derived from ‘witch balls’ makes ‘witch balls’ appear to have been used for longer than they in fact have.

    The similarity in construction between baubles and ‘witch balls’ probably explains the way these two items have been linked. There is a tendency among some Christians to ascribe ‘occult’ or ‘satanic’ origins to just about anything, and this seems to be the case here, but there is no real evidence that baubles have an occult origin.

    1 ~ JCJ Metford, Dictionary of Christian Lore and Legend, (Thames & Hudson 1983), p.67
    2 ~ There are similarities between Matthew’s infancy narrative and legends about the birth of Caesar Augustus, hailed in the Roman Emperor as ‘Son of God’, including the ‘virgin birth’ and astronomical signs. Similarity does not necessarily imply plagiarism, but some commentators have suggested that the author of Matthew invented these stories to bolster the claims made about Jesus Christ by his followers.

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