This is a Paradiesapfel, a Weihnachten tradition in some of Germany's regions that has a religious background. An evergreen fir tree has been a symbol of Hope and Life during dark winters since pre-Christian times, and for generations in our homes too. At least until the needles begin to fall.
Hidden among the branches of some Christmas Trees in Germany will be a highly polished red apple, the Paradise Apple.
During Heiligeabend, Christmas Eve, there is an old tradition in some regions that the red apple is believed to bring those who see it nearer to "Paradise", perhaps even back to a paradise lost. Symbolizing the promise of help finding something lost, a person, love, faith, whatever it may be. Or support in discovering the way onto a new path.
The apple opens a door to HOPE.
During the Middle Ages tales showing the history of creation, known as "Games of Paradise", were acted in front of churches on Christmas Eve, and a fir tree was the Paradiesbäume, Tree of Paradise.
Decorated with red apples that were harvested in autumn but in a northern European winter kept fresh.
On the early Christian calendar December 24 was Adam and Eve’s Day, and in medieval times this type of play taught the Bible to a mainly illiterate population. It was based on the story of the "lost paradise" from the book of Genesis, when Eve persuaded Adam to try some forbidden fruit she had picked and eaten from "the tree of knowledge of good and evil". This led to them being thrown out of their paradise.
Although the fruit wasn't specifically named as an apple, it could just have easily have been figs, grapes, lemons, pomegranates or perhaps even a quince.
For Christians Jesus birth symbolized the hope of a Paradise to aim for, and they combined this with ancient northern European pre-Christian traditions for the Winter Solstice, when evergreen branches and fire were used to symbolize life's continued victory over cold and darkness.
It is sometimes said German merchants erected the original Christmas tree in Riga, Latvia, in the 16th century, but the first confirmed sighting of a Christmas Tree had already happened in Freiburg during the 15th century, and they were seen later in Alsace in the 16th century. A region that is now part of France but has spent a great deal of the last centuries belonging to either France or Germany,
By the 17th century Christmas trees decorated with apples were found throughout Germany, although they were more likely to stand outside than inside, and it was much later that oranges and other ornaments joined them. This is also around the time they began to be brought into the home.
A legend is that in the mid-19th century there had been a drought followed by a failed harvest, and with apples difficult to find and expensive that year Meisenthal glass workers, in France close to the German border, decorated their trees with glass baubles that they had made for optical glasses. Over the next years they began to blow apple shapes from glass, and these were the original Christmas baubles.
Hundreds of years after they were originally introduced during Weihnachten, apples are still very much a part of the German Christmas tradition, including the delicious "Weihnachts Apfel".
They can be cored, filled with Raisins, Nuts, Almonds, Ginger or Marzipan and baked. Mounted on sticks and candied with a bright red toffee coating, or used as ingredient in anything from cakes and punch to herring salad and stuffing for a goose. Apples are everywhere.
The Paradiesapfel is not a custom found everywhere in Germany, but where there is one sitting among the branches of a Christmas tree it is a Weihnachten tradition in memory of a "paradise" that has perhaps been lost, but symbolizing the hope and promise that it can, and will, be re-found, even if at the time this seems impossible. Encouraging something to work for, to aim towards. HOPE.
It is a custom followed by many today who have no religious affiliations, while the fresh apple is together with Lebkuchen, chocolates, candies and nuts among the Christbaumschmuck, Christmas ornaments, children enjoy "plundering" from the tree at Epiphany. The end of the twelve days of Christmas.
Although it could also be that it ends up as a treat for the local wildlife to enjoy on a cold January day when food is scarce, so for them also it is a Paradiesapfel.