The History, Symbolism and Decorating of the Yule Tree: Pagan Christmas Tree or Christian Symbol?

Published Categorized as Tree Symbolism
yule trees

About the Yule Tree

The Yule Tree is a popular decoration during the Christmas season. But where did this tradition come from?

Some say it originated with Pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice, while others believe it to be a Christian symbol.

So, what’s the truth?

Let’s take a look at the history of the Yule Tree and try to determine its origins once and for all.

The Yule Tree

The Yule tree is an ancient symbol of life, rebirth, fertility, prosperity and renewal. It has been associated with many ancient deities across different cultures throughout history including the Great Mother Goddesses of ancient Europe.

In Scandinavia it was believed that trees held magical powers that could bring good fortune if they were properly respected and cared for during wintertime. Therefore it became customary to decorate trees during Yule celebrations in order to bring good luck into people’s homes.

yule tree

The custom eventually became widespread across many countries during Christmas time due to Christian influences on these traditions in later centuries.

The symbols and meanings of the yule tree include:

  • Everlasting life: The evergreen nature of the tree represents everlasting life and hope for those celebrating during the Christmas season;
  • Fertility: The association between trees and fertility can be traced back to ancient pagan rituals;
  • Hope for a prosperous new year: In medieval Europe, people would bring symbolic branches from yule trees into their homes on New Year’s Eve for good luck in the coming year;
  • Symbolism for Jesus Christ’s birth: Christians have associated Christmas with trees since at least 400 AD when St Augustine described them as “signs” representing Jesus’ birth.

The Yule tree has become associated with Christmas

The yule tree has become popularly associated with Christmas due to its beautiful appearance and symbolism of everlasting life and hope for the coming year. The tradition of decorating a yule tree has been practiced for centuries in many cultures around the world as a way of bringing joy during the cold winter season.

It is usually decorated with lights, ornaments, and other festive decorations. Its branches are often used to create wreaths for decoration around the home or as gifts for loved ones.

yule tree christmas

It serves as an important reminder that Christ was born into this world amidst nature’s beauty; therefore it makes sense that Christians would celebrate his birth by surrounding themselves with nature’s bounty during this special time of year.

What is the history of the yule tree?

The history of the Yule Tree dates back to ancient Scandinavia, where it was believed that burning a huge log, felled from an Ash tree, would honour their god Thor. In the Celtic tradition, a continual fire was kept to prevent spirits from entering the home.

In order for this fire to keep burning, a large tree was felled and brought into the house.

The practice later evolved into cutting down and burning whole trees, which were then fed to fires over 12 days (known as yule). Eventually, these trees became decorated with brightly coloured glass ornaments and ribbons to celebrate Christmas.

The history of the yule tree can also be traced back to ancient and pagan beliefs. In northern Europe, it was believed that the sun God was sick during winter and needed spiritual fire and light to help bring about recovery and spring. To help with this, people would bring evergreen leaves into their homes as a symbol of hope for summer’s return.

burning yule tree log

What are the symbols connected to the yule tree?

The Saturnalia Festival

Saturnalia was a Roman festival dedicated to the god Saturn, occurring on December 17-23. During this period, slaves were allowed to become masters and people exchanged gifts. The festival was characterized by excessive eating, drinking and debauchery in honor of the god of agriculture who was believed to have powers over wealth.

People would decorate their homes with yule trees during this time of year in order to bring luck and prosperity into their homes. In addition, they would also burn yule logs as part of the festivities – these logs symbolized the return of light after winter darkness had ended.

Winter Solstice

During Winter Solstice, the Earth’s gets to the farthest position from the sun, which is the longest night of the year. It is celebrated across many pagan traditions, honoring the sun and marking the halfway point of winter.

The Yule tree has traditionally been used as a way to mark this important holiday and bring life back into cold winter months. The evergreen trees symbolize hope in a time of darkness and provide warmth through their fragrance.

Decorating with evergreens also reminds us that life continues through cold winters just as it does throughout warmer seasons – an important message during this time of reflection and new beginnings!

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is the evening before Christmas Day, which is celebrated on December 25. The yule tree is an important part of the tradition as it symbolizes the coming of Christ’s light into the dark winter season. Christians would decorate their trees with candles, fruits and other decorations to represent their faith in Christ’s birth story.

The yule tree has also been associated with fertility rituals since ancient times due its ability to survive harsh winters and provide warmth for animals and humans alike during this period.

Thus it serves as an important reminder that even though winter may be cold and bleak at times there will be brighter days ahead when spring comes around again soon after – just like how Jesus’ birth brought hope into this world during such a dark time in history when people were suffering under Roman rule.

yule tree christmas


The Christmas season is the period of time leading up to Christmas, which is traditionally observed from December 25 to January 6 in many countries. During this time, people celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with feasting, caroling, gift-giving and other festivities.

The Fir Tree – aroma

The fir tree is a coniferous tree that grows widely throughout the world. It has needle-like leaves and sharp cones that contain seeds. The fir tree has been associated with Christmas since ancient times, it is also known for its pleasant aroma which adds to the festive atmosphere of the season.

Saturn – darkness

Saturn is the planetary symbol associated with the yule tree. Saturn represents darkness, coldness, wisdom, and maturity. It is also associated with time and mortality.

In ancient times, people believed that the planet Saturn was responsible for bringing about winter season and its associated hardships. To counterbalance this negative energy, they would decorate their homes with evergreen trees in order to bring about a sense of warmth and hope during this bleak time of year.

The yule tree became especially significant as it represented life after death; people would burn it as an offering to their deities in order to ensure prosperity in the coming year.

Mistletoe – decoration

Mistletoe is a type of parasitic plant that grows attached to and penetrating the branches of a tree or shrub. It is generally one of several species in the Phoradendron genus. The mistletoe plant commonly used as a Christmas decoration in North America is known as Phoradendron serotinum.

The ancient Greeks, Druids, Celts, and Norse revered mistletoe as sacred due to its medicinal properties and its use for protection against evil spirits. According to some Christmas customs believed to have originated with Norse legends, couples who meet under hanging mistletoe are obliged to kiss; this tradition symbolizes fertility and represents the female element.

Additionally, Druids used mistletoe in special ceremonies during the Winter Solstice because they believed that its green leaves represented fertility of the Mother Goddess while its white berries represented seed of the Forest God (or Oak King)

Conifers associated with the Yule tree

The types of conifers associated with the yule tree are fir cones, spruce trees, and pine.

  • Fir cones are small evergreen cones that contain seeds inside them. They are often used as decorative ornaments around Christmastime.
  • Spruce trees are large coniferous evergreens that have needle-like leaves and can grow up to 50 feet tall in some cases.
  • Pine needles are thin leaves found on many varieties of pines that provide a unique scent when crushed or burned during the holiday season.

Scandinavian Traditions associated with the Yule tree

Scandinavian traditions associated with the yule tree include decorating the tree with candles, ornaments, and gifts; hanging mistletoe above doors to encourage romance; singing carols around the fire; eating special foods such as mounds of rice pudding or baked ham served with mustard sauce; exchanging gifts such as candles and cards.

Is the yule tree pagan or christian symbol?

The Yule Tree is a pagan symbol, it was originally adorned with natural ornaments such as pinecones, berries and other fruit. In some holiday traditions, garlands of popcorn and berries were strung around the tree so that visiting birds could feed off it as well. The Yule Tree represents the Tree of Life or the World Tree and also represented hope for a better life in ancient times.

The tradition of decorating the Yule tree has continued into modern times as a symbol of rebirth during wintertime.

Additionally, many people still use natural decorations such as pinecones to adorn their trees in order to bring good luck and prosperity into their homes during this time period.


What are some traditional decorations for the Yule Tree?

Some traditional decorations for the Yule Tree include pinecones, berries, fruit such as apples and pears, garlands of popcorn and berries to feed visiting birds, candles or fairy lights to represent the return of light after the winter solstice.

In some traditions it is also decorated with bells or other musical instruments that are believed to bring good fortune during the season.

What is the difference between a Pagan Christmas Tree and a Christian Symbol?

Both the Pagan Christmas Tree and the Christian Symbol represent hope for the coming year. The Pagan Christmas Tree represents life and spring, while the Christian Symbol represents Jesus’ birth and salvation.

The Pagan Christmas Tree is decorated with natural ornaments whereas the Christian Symbol is usually adorned with bright, shiny ornaments such as lights or tinsel.

Additionally, Christians often hang mistletoe from their tree as a symbol of love while Pagans do not traditionally do this.

What types of trees are used for Yule Trees?

Yule trees are typically coniferous species such as pine, fir, cedar, juniper and spruce. The tradition has its origins in ancient civilizations of the middle east, Asia and Europe. Modern customs flourished in Germany and spread to other European nations and North America in the 19th century.

What is the significance of the Yule Log?

The Yule Log is a large log that is traditionally burned as part of a Yule, or Christmas, celebration. It may also refer to log-shaped cakes used in the same celebrations.

Historically, the Yule Log tradition may have included an entire tree or the largest log available to be burned in the fire hearth. Some traditions required starting the Yule log fire with remnants from last year’s log in order to bring prosperity and protection from evil spirits during that year’s festivities.

burn yule tree log

Today’s celebrations still include lighting candles and lights associated with Christmas which may have evolved from this practice of burning logs to entice sunlight back into homes during ancient times.

Yule Tree decorations are still popular today. Yule trees, wreaths, and other decorations are traditional symbols of the winter solstice and have been popular throughout history. Many people still enjoy decorating their homes with Yule Tree decorations to celebrate the holiday season.

Some families however choose not to decorate their Yule Trees or use other traditional symbols of the winter solstice due to religious or personal reasons. Wishing a Merry Yule is always a good time however to get in contact with old friends and with family members to wish them all the best.

What is the purpose of decorating a Yule Tree?

The purpose of decorating a Yule Tree is to add warmth and cheerfulness to the home during the cold winter months. Decorations can be anything from lights and ornaments to special cards or gifts for loved ones.

The Yule Tree also serves as a reminder of ancient traditions that are still celebrated today such as the lighting of candles on Christmas Eve or feasting with family on special dishes like roast turkey.


By leslieszabo

I like silence. I like balance.