Christmas Trees

2003_12_22 019 Christmas Tree

I have heard of a priest who refuses to have a Christmas Tree in Church because he sees it as a pagan symbol. I also have a Jewish friend who never has a Tree in the House because she sees it as Christian. And yet the vast majority of the implicitly pagan people of our nation, somehow explicitly connect themselves to the Christian Gospel when they choose to decorate their houses in honour of the Nativity of the Lord.

Many of our Christmas customs demonstrate the centuries of interaction between faith and culture that some theologians would call ‘inculturation'. We have baptised pagan feasts. We have used powerful imagery to convey Christian meaning. Symbols which expressed light in the dark and life in the face of the death of winter are now used to express our Christian hope which comes through the incarnation of the Divine Son. The greenery with which we ‘deck the halls' is not worshipping Woden and does not represent Yggdrasil, his sacred Ash. Rather they should be joyful signs of that cosmic celebration of new life that God gives in Jesus which penetrates even the dullness of an English December.

The Christmas Tree has long been Christian. Some would cite Martin Luther as popularising it, but it goes much back further into our Catholic past. Some would say that St Boniface used its triangular shape to teach about the Holy Trinity and so it represents a key sign of the evangelisation of the Teutonic peoples. ‘Paradise Trees', with references to both the Tree in the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Our Lord's sacrifice were common in medieval mystery plays. Of course in Britain the custom received new impetus in this country under the influence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert .

For us, let us enjoy the tradition. And let us rejoice that the power of the Gospel is such that it will always find a way to express itself even in symbols which did not start out as purely Christian. In our trees, in our houses, let the green boughs of fir carry not just tinsel and baubles but our bright hopes of the Good News of Jesus and his birth in Bethlehem .

How about these two ideas for connecting the Christmas Tree with the Good News of Jesus.

  1. Prayer is always good and you might find helpful the ‘Blessing of a Christmas Tree' from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers published by the American Bishops (see http://www.usccb.org/publishing/advent2003/XMASTREE.PDF ).
  2. Decorate your tree with Angels singing ‘Glory to God in the highest' (Luke 2:14)