The “hanging of the green” is a Christmas tradition that has been around for centuries. Sprays, garlands, wreaths and trees from evergreen trees such as pine, fir, holly and laurel have decorated homes at Christmastime since the days of Martin Luther in the early 1500s. Many churches begin their celebration of the Christmas season with a ceremony called the Hanging of the Green (or Greens).
Martin Luther is credited with encouraging people to decorate their homes and churches with evergreens to use it as a teaching tool about Christ and to be a symbolic reminder of the importance of his birth during the Christmas season. The word “evergreen” is used to reference any plant that keeps its leaves and color even during the winter, when everything else appears dead. Martin Luther used evergreens as symbols of the unchanging nature of God and the everlasting life that Christians receive through Jesus Christ.
Hanging of the Green church ceremonies are traditionally held on the first Sunday of Advent, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Advent is from the Latin word “adventus,” which means “coming.” Adventus is the translation of the Greek word “parousia,” used to reference the Second Coming of Christ. So the season of Advent serves as a reminder of the original waiting done by the Hebrews for the birth of their Messiah, as well as the waiting of Christians for the second coming of Christ.
The season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and ends on Christmas Eve. An evergreen wreath displayed with candles is often used at church ceremonies and has a lot of symbolism. The circle of the wreath is a reminder of God, who has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath speaks of the hope and renewal of eternal life. Candles symbolize Christ as the light of the world.
Many evergreens have symbolism associated with them. Cedar is considered the tree of excellence and strength, and fir and pine boughs represent eternal life. Holly is symbolic of Jesus’ death and ivy represents his resurrection. Holly is also a symbol of joy and peace. Laurel and bay leaves symbolize victory and triumph.
Besides all the symbolism associated with evergreens, I think one other important aspect is that they are alive, and provide color and a wonder smell. They call us to celebrate the natural world around us and share its beauty in our home and in the place where we worship. Modern life has created a disconnect between nature and humans, so the evergreens remind us of the earth as God’s glorious and delicate creation. May your home be ever green with life, peace and joy during this special season.
Steve Roark is the area forester in Tazewell, Tennessee for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.