Why Apples? A Tale of Eden and Christmas Trees

I won’t lie to you guys. I’m one of those people who goes a little crazy on Christmas. The pumpkins from Halloween are barely soft before Christmas decorations go up. We wrap the stair banister in holly and garland, lights adorn our kitchen window, and unwitting cats find themselves in various Christmas outfits. I enjoy all of the decorating, but the Christmas Tree holds an extra-special place in my heart.

I just love sitting in the glow of a Christmas Tree, and one of my favorite holiday ventures is picking out new ornaments. I feel giddy when stores cram their shelves with colorful balls, fun shapes, and sparkling tree trim. We already have plenty in our own ornament stash (because I have little control at Christmas), but we add to it every year in one of our own traditions. Each Christmas, my husband and I get each other an ornament that marks something special about that year. In addition to that, I splurge on at least one new box of regular ornaments. Last year, I found myself some Shiny Brites (click here to read all about it). This year took me in a slightly different direction.


It’s not that I never noticed all the food-shaped ornaments. Let’s face it, it’s pretty hard not to. Stores carry ornaments shaped and colored like pies, cakes, cookies, tacos, and even some glitter-adorned French fries, hamburgers, and hot dogs. But the most common foodie ornaments are fruit-shaped, especially apples. And while some of the food shapes are modern trends, apples have been around for decades.

We put apple ornaments on our Christmas tree when I was a kid. Many antique stores carry sparkling apple ornaments of red and green. In the much older days like pre 1900s, people put real apples on the tree. It felt like an odd ornament choice, especially for those days of yore. Because apples aren’t in season in the winter – at least not where I grew up! Back then, before mass shipping and all that, many folks would be hard pressed to find fresh apples in December. So why would they hang those hard-to-get fruits on the Christmas tree?  Well, with a tradition that old, some history usually lurks behind it. So, I picked up the old shovel and dug into the roots of apples on the Christmas tree.

I had to go much further back in time than I anticipated, to a time when Christmas trees weren’t even born yet. In those ancient times, evergreens had a mystical appeal. Anything that could stay green in the dead of winter must have felt pretty magical. So Evergreens came to symbolize life eternal, and they often played a big part in religious ceremonies.

When Christianity entered the picture, they wove evergreens into their traditions too. People hung pines and evergreens in the house and barns to scare away evil spirits. They also used them at Christmas time for a symbol of Jesus and eternal life. The practice sprouted some seedlings for Christmas Tree traditions, but when it comes to the Christmas tree as we know it, most historical fingers point to Germany. And apples have a starring role in the story.


In Medieval Germany, December 24th saw the celebration of another festival besides Christmas. They called it “Adam and Eve Day,” and it commemorated the story of the fall of man. Some churches hailed the Garden of Eden duo as saints. Pairing up their story with Christmas created a theme of hopeful redemption through the birth of a savior.

The celebration of Adam and Eve day involved a “mystery play” or a “paradise play.” An acting out of the Adam and Eve story, performed since many church goers at the time were illiterate and couldn’t read it for themselves. These plays centered around a very important prop called the “Paradise Tree.” This evergreen tree, usually fir, was adorned with apples and used to represent the Garden of Eden. Sometimes, churches added communion wafers to symbolize Jesus and the promise of salvation. The wafers also merged two powerful tree ideas in Christian literature – the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The Paradise Tree became so prominent that some churches paraded it through the streets after service, and everyone came to partake in the joy of it.

All was well until the fifteenth century, when the Catholic church took their official stance against Adam and Eve day. I suppose they thought it hard to encourage sainthood for the people they blamed for the fall of man. Whatever their reasons, they banned mystery plays across the board.


But… the Paradise Tree survived. It moved into private homes, where families decorated it with apples and bread wafers. As the years and the times evolved, people swapped out wafers for cookies. They added candles to celebrate the coming of the light of the world.

In the sixteenth century, the Paradise tree merged with another well-known German Christmas tradition – the Christmas pyramid. This wooden structure was decorated with evergreens, figurines, and sometimes a star on top. When the tree and the pyramid came together, it started the modern-day Christmas Tree. Thanks to the holdover traditions from Adam and Eve day, apples, cookies, and wafers remained popular Christmas Tree ornaments well into the 1900s. People also hung up other fruits like pears and pomegranates, along with candies and popcorn, glass balls, and figurines.

Today, the apple is still a prominent Christmas ornament, but in most cases, they come in plastic or glass form. As for the rest of the foodie ornaments, they have taken Christmas trees by storm. This year alone I have seen French Silk Pie ornaments, S’mores, nachos, and chocolate-covered strawberries – all made of plastic and coated with glitter.

While I’m not sure those food ornaments have a place on our own tree, I made room for some apples this year. Because sometimes, the history is just too hard to ignore. They can mostly rest easy too. Humans won’t be tempted to eat them in our house – but the ornery two cats sure might.



“The Christmas Tree Book” – P.V. Snyder

“Inventing the Christmas Tree” – B. Brunner

National Christmas Tree Association

Encyclopedia Britannica

The Free Dictionary by Farlex

All photos by M.B. Henry.  

A very merry Holiday Season to you all! 

82 Comments on “Why Apples? A Tale of Eden and Christmas Trees

    • Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂 I must recommend that book “The Christmas Tree Book” in my sources. I’ve found some pretty neat things in there!

  1. You and my wife Peggy would get along just fine, MB. We are going to spend this Christmas with our kids back east, however, so Christmas decorations will be limited, maybe one box instead of the standard 5 or 6. 🙂 We do have a wooden German tree, however. It rotates by candle power. I suspect it may come out. I also suspect that your cats are particularly interested in seeing how many ornaments they can knock off your tree after you have dressed them up. Grin. Thanks for the fun history lesson. –Curt

    • You suspect absolutely right about the cats! And I also suspect you are right about your other suspect – sounds like your wife and I are cut of the same Christmas jib! 🙂

  2. This is fascinating! I had never heard any of this history before — which is saying a lot, because I’ve spent a couple of Christmases in Germany. Thank you as always for another beautifully researched, beautifully written post. Fröhliche Weihnachten!

    • I bet that was wonderful – I would love to spend Christmas in Germany someday. My husband and I visited there for the first time this summer and we loved it. And vielen danke! Schöne Ferien!

  3. Adam and Eve Day – fabulous!! That explains a lot..:)
    And I think what you and your husband do with the ornaments every year is a really cool idea…
    Merry Christmas!

    • Merry Christmas to you too! 🙂 We started it the first Christmas we spent together, because we were both pretty stretched for cash and decided it would a fun (but financially easy) way to exchange gifts. We liked it so much we just kept it up 🙂 Now we will have quite the historical collection of our Christmases someday! 🙂

  4. What a wonderful and timely slice of history. In our family tradition, we strung together popcorn and cranberry garlands with the thought that after Christmas, the tree would be put out for the birds.

    • I love that!! What a neat way to spread the joy of the Christmas tree to the animal kingdom 🙂 Plus I’m sure it looked beautiful

  5. I love the way our festive traditions are such a mish-mash of things – many of them pagan and nothing to do with Christ’s Mass. Hadn’t realised the apples went that far back – or the association with Adam & Eve. Excellent article! And I’m still trying to wrap my brain round the idea of glittery chips (French fries), hamburgers and hot dogs; good grief!!

    • You’re so right, and I think that’s one of my favorite things about Holiday traditions is how far they actually go back and finding where they come from. Like so many other things, I think it helps me feel more connected to the past 🙂 And yes it is truly amusing to see the different food ornaments out there! Agreed about the chips and hot dogs – I saw it with my own eyes and still can’t quite believe it hahaha.

  6. I think I’ll buy an apple ornament this year to honor my German husband. 🍎 He’s going to love the story behind it…

  7. Awesome story! Bob’s mother knows about this. She also used to hide a decorative pickle on the Christmas tree. I believe it meant good luck to the person who found it..not sure though. The people of old also placed candles in their windows and on the trees to celebrate the return of the light. This was done on the solstice. Thanks for this story of the apples!

  8. Love the apple decorations, never seen them before. I wasn’t in mood for Xmas tree this year, but you have inspired me.

    • I can’t tell you how happy that makes me 🙂 Inspiring others is every writer’s favorite! I hope your tree brings you comfort and joy this holiday season

  9. This was a really interesting read. There is so much history to Christmas, no? It’s influenced by so many past cultures.

    The apples in your photos are so pretty! What a wonderful tradition in your home.

    • You’re right – many past cultures played a role in Christmas as we know it today. Both the books listed in my sources provided lots of fascinating info on that, if you’re ever interested.

    • Awwww! 🙂 That’s precious, Paula! Dogs are so helpful like that 🙂 😉

  10. This was such a fascinating read! Your Christmas excitement is so palpable and contagious. I had no idea Christmas trees (and their decorations) carried so much symbolism. I wonder why the Catholic Church was annoyed with the Adam and Eve Day – it seems rather harmless to me.

    • Glad I can help spread some Christmas cheer! 🙂 It would have been fun to sit in on an Adam and Eve day Mystery Play!

  11. Oooh, I loved these pictures, M.B. They helped get me in the Christmas spirit. And I love it that you get super jazzed about Christmas–especially that you like dressing up your cats!

    • Hahaha yes – we love dressing up the cats, but I don’t think they like it nearly as much as we do haha. My Instagram has some delightful photos of it when they do cooperate if you ever want to see them in all their Christmas cat glory.

  12. Thank you for this informative summary. Even though I grew up in Germany, I was not in possession of all the historical facts.
    Happy holidays to you. Enjoy your new and old ornaments.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! The books listed in my sources have lots more info on the many Christmas traditions that came from Germany if you are interested in further reading

  13. Ahhhh, so interesting, thank you for this educational post. Never knew about the apples and Germany and great tradition for the family, on top of all.

  14. Fascinating post… I had always wondered, in the back of my mind, why the Christmas tree tradition had started in Germany. Thanks for the research!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it! 🙂 That “Christmas Tree Book” listed in the sources is a fascinating read for a lot of Christmas traditions – many that started in Germany. You might like it!

  15. Loved the article! We have a glittery ketchup bottle, slice of pizza and a hamburger on our tree! We, too, get an ornament every year symbolizing something from our year. Joe and I began the tradition 40 years ago this Christmas. Mom wouldn’t let me have any ornaments from my childhood for our first tree, so I decided that would never happen with my family. Mary has an ornament for every year as does Paige. As you might guess, the ketchup one is Mary’s, I used to have to buy industrial size ketchup bottles just to keep up with her! Paige went through a pepperoni pizza phase, so there ya go! My Violet kitty has stolen the God’s Eye ornament Mary made in preschool from our tree 4 times already this year! 2 years ago, I found the last ornament she hid in June! I have a Santa outfit I ‘ve dressed my kitties in over the years, much to their chagrin. Grumpy Cat is an amateur compared to those faces!
    I would beg to differ a bit about apples being out of season though. Many people stored apples, onions and potatoes almost all winter in their root cellars. Apples were often the only fresh fruit available. My grandmother’s journals indicate she would buy a couple of oranges as a Christmas treat (the orange in the stocking tradition) but homegrown apples were usually still around at Christmas. Wish you were near, I would love to share Grandma’s journals with you. They go back at least to the 1930s and were also her accounting books. Sold the calf for this much, spent 10 cents for lemons…births (even mine!), deaths, snowstorms, all in her pencilled hand. I think you would appreciate them for the picture they paint of life on their tiny farm near the railroad tracks. Keep telling us your fabulous stories!!😀

    • Hahahaha – that’s so funny about the kitties and your ornaments. We have a Ninja Turtles tiny ornament set and one year Kitty got a hold of it. Poor Leonardo was missing for TWO YEARS before we finally found him randomly, and stuffed way back under the stove! Little stinkers those cats – good thing we love them. And that’s a good point about the root cellars! – I’m sure that’s how many people got through the winter season and still had fruits and vegetables. I bet it took a lot more work at least to have fresh fruit around – not like today when all we have to do is walk into the local grocery store! I’d love to see those journals sometime, I bet they are quite a treasure trove of history and memories 🙂

    • Right? I randomly found it in that Christmas Tree book listed in the sources. I had to write it up! So interesting… Glad you enjoyed it!

  16. Very informative MB. First I thought you were going to lead us to a German Adam and Eve. where apples were sinful and caused wars and other violence. Whew! I was wrong. Thanks for sharing the decorative roots and traditions of the German Christmas. Cheers!

    • You’re welcome! Glad you enjoyed it. I try to keep my Christmas posts violence free 😃

  17. We have beaded pears. I wonder if the glass balls are derived from the apples. They are roughly the right shape and often red. Fascinating. Thanks for the history.

  18. I did not know about Adam and Eve Day – thanks for the lesson. Your beaded apples bring back memories of my sister and I making beaded fruit ornaments as gifts for our Grandparents… YEARS ago! Great post.

    • 🙂 I’m glad the post brought back some fond memories for you! We had apple ornaments for our tree when I was a kid. I don’t see them as much these days, but I was happy to find these at a Michael’s Craft store and add them to our tree 🙂 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season

  19. As always, a most interesting post! I love apples! We’ve had two orchards at both of our homes in WI and are planning a third! Apple trees are the stars! I will have to look for some apple ornaments next year (or maybe not on clearance)! Unfortunately, we do have a hamburger ornament and a hot dog ornament bought for our boys by my mom. They often don’t make the “cut” for the tree – but the memories are fun! Thanks, again! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

  20. Pingback: S'more Tradition - The Christmas Shoppe

  21. Our family has a tradition of placing a bowl of fruit (oranges, pomegranates, sweet apples, etc.) and a bowl of unshelled nuts under the tree, usually a smallish tree that sits on top of a coffee table, somewhere out of the way. I’m not sure of the symbolism but the fruit is there to be eaten, so I’m guessing that it’s there to keep people out of the kitchen during holiday preparations, and possibly to denote plenty and the hope for plenty. Our family history is Romanian and German but I’ve not seen this in any other culture, just my family and some of our extended relatives.

    • Hahaha keeping people out of the kitchen during extensive meal preparations is a worthy cause 🙂 And it’s fun to take bits and pieces of other traditions and make them your own! Sounds lovely at any rate, and I hope you have a fantastic holiday season

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