Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plain. . .
Susan here, wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season and a happy, healthy, great New Year. Of all the Christmas ornaments we unpack each year, I love the angels the most—not only the angel that tops the tree each year, but the others too, an assorted collection of glittery, pretty, whimsical and delicate angels. Some years, that’s all that goes on the tree—angels, stars, glittery bits and glowing lights.
When did angels first show up on Christmas trees? From the start of Christmas décor is a fair bet–angels at Christmastime are reminders of the angels who appeared to shepherds in the fields outside long-ago Bethlehem to point out the star overhead and a birth in a stable. Those angels, we are told, startled and awed and pretty much terrified those shepherds with their magnificence and their message. The angels who gaze down from Christmas trees now, swathed in frothy lace and cascading LED colors, are far more benign, but somehow magical nonetheless.
– Christina Rossetti
When fir trees were first brought into homes in Germany in the 16th century at Christmastime and strung with nuts and fruit, paper ornaments, cookies and candles, some of those cutouts and goodies were no doubt shaped as angels and stars as well as little toys for the children. The tradition gradually took hold and spread elsewhere, eventually found in British homes in the 19th century, and finding its way to America too, with Dutch and German immigrants in
particular. Greenery, particularly evergreens, had been part of Yuletide and wintertime celebrations even in pre-Christian practices in Britain and Scandinavia, and merged with Christian observances, creating Christmas traditions that we still continue today. Angels traveled along with those trees.
Angels were part of the original nativity event, bringing the news to Mary, informing Joseph in dreams, appearing to the shepherds, and singing the news in heavenly choruses, so we are told. They are mentioned earlier still, in the Old Testament and Talmud as guides and messengers, and before that in Mesopotamian and Egyptian texts and images. Timeless, beautiful, spiritual entities, sometimes cherubic and adorable, or magnificent and awe-inspiring, or whimsical, quirky, homespun, and on and on, angels are a special part of Yuletide.
Nativity scenes in early Christian, medieval, Renaissance art and through the 19th century marked and celebrated Christmas long before evergreen trees were brought into homes, decorated—and depicted by artists. Of the scattering of images that show Christmas trees in homes, many of those contain angels. A simple illustration of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert gathered around their Christmas tree with their children also shows an angel topping their tree.
Today, our Christmas celebrations include angels everywhere—tree
decorations, music, cards and wrapping paper, Nativity scenes, stockings hung from the mantel—pretty much everything (with the possible exception of UCSs, Ugly Christmas Sweaters!).
Yuletide is truly the season of angels — and for centuries, the
presence of angels has helped keep the spirit, spark and magic of Christmas around. WIshing you all the magic of the season and more!