It’s beginning to look like Christmas both inside my house and in the community. Our artificial tree and boxes of decorations have made their annual trip out of storage while Christmas tree lots are popping up all over town.
What’s so special about putting a evergreen trees inside your house? Does it mean anything? With this year’s emphasis on being like a tree, I thought it was worth a closer look.
The roots of our Christmas tree traditions may go all the way back to the 7th century when a monk went to Germany to teach the Word of God. Some legends say he cut down an oak tree where pagans sacrificed human life and that a small fir tree sprung up from the roots. Other legends say he used the triangular shape of the fir tree to describe the Holy Trinity. Either way, converts began to revere the fir tree as God’s tree. By the 12th century in Central Europe, fir trees were being hung upside down from ceilings at Christmastime as a symbol of Christianity.
While I find a tree hanging from the ceiling a bit strange, I like the visual of God pointing or reaching down toward mankind. After all, that’s what Jesus’ birth was all about — God coming to dwell with us. Some later protested the positioning of the tree, saying it should point toward the heavens instead, and today most Christmas trees stay on the ground. (Although, the fad is coming back!)
Many pagan cultures believed evergreen trees symbolized eternal life. That meaning certainly applies to the Christmas tree if we keep in mind that Jesus coming to Earth to be born as a baby led to his sacrifice and conquering of death … giving eternal life to those who believe.
Another tradition involved the production of the “Paradise Play” at Christmastime. This production depicted the Garden of Eden when God walked with mankind … man’s choice to eat the forbidden fruit … and the need for a Savior to come. In building the set, organizers would hang apples from the branches of the only green tree around that time of year, an evergreen. (More about decorations next week!)
For Christians through the years, the Christmas tree was thought to symbolize the Paradise Tree in the Garden, the prophesied Branch of Jesse from which King David’s royal heir (Jesus) would come, the cross where Jesus was crucified, and/or the Tree of Life in the book of Revelation that bears fruit for the healing of the nations.
Evergreen for eternal life. Pointing up to heaven (or down to show God reaching out to us). A visual reminder of other famous trees in the Bible story. And a fragrant aroma that fills the house.
All to remind us of the reason for the season.
What about you? Do you set up a Christmas tree? Artificial or real? Right after Thanksgiving or on Christmas Eve? Any tree-trimming traditions?