All around the world, people are preparing to celebrate that Holiday of all holidays, Christmas. Like the siren call of myth, the lure of yuletide activity is almost impossible to resist. Even the Scrooges I’ve known, still, amidst their bah humbugs! usually join in the celebrations, one way or another. Just about everyone finds him or her self sitting around a Christmas tree, sharing food and exchanging gifts amidst garland, glitter and goodwill. And those who aren’t able to, wish they were.
What is it about that Christmas tree? I’ve been working on mine for awhile now, off & on, taking my time and ensuring that it is just right! Why do almost all of us do it?
My money is on hope and expectation.
We think we’re ‘decorating a Christmas tree’, but the roots go much deeper than that. People are looking for something better. We want the comfort & contentment of security. We want the release of joy. I believe the decorated Christmas tree stands as a symbol & token of such things. For myself, I find an almost inviolable sense of peace, of serenity as I gaze upon my own tree, with its twinkling lights and its sparkling elegance. It is a silent and immoveable testimony to enduring abundance.
“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Springing up around the centuries-old tradition of decorating a live evergreen tree at Christmas time are several different stories pointing to its origin. Reading these accounts, I learned that it was possible that Martin Luther himself had set this practice in motion…or St. Boniface…and the tradition began in Germany…no, wait, it was France…I’ve seen Egypt mentioned…well, actually, it looks like ancient Rome was where the practice first surfaced…
And speaking of the ancient Romans, their trees were just pieces of evergreen shrubs decorated with bits of metal, celebrating a winter festival (that ended on December 25) in honor of their god of agriculture, Saturnus. The pagan god Bacchus was honored in a similar fashion as well. And the prophet Jeremiah wrote of the cutting down & adorning of trees, declaring it a vain, heathen custom (Jeremiah 10: 2–4). So it does seem that what eventually became the symbol of the birth of the Saviour of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ, had its roots in pagan practices.
I find it so amazing, then, that the ultimate outcome of God-less ritual became this universally recognized symbol of true Life, eternal Life. Talk about transformation! Talk about restoration! Talk about mortality being swallowed up of Life! In fact, turning it inside out, who is to say that this very outcome was not the original intention of a seed constrained within an outward expression of another sort. Certain types of men “..hold the truth in unrighteousness.” (Romans 1:18)
But the truth is still there. When Ecclesiastes 3:11 speaks of God placing the world in their heart (the hearts of human beings), it is important to know that the more literal meaning of ‘world’ connotes a sense of eternity, and that which is concealed (Strong’s Concordance, Hebrew #5769, #5956.) This awareness is placed within us all. That is a good thing. Those invisible things are understood by the visible, created things…such as a tree…but ‘vain imaginations’ (Romans 1:21) darken hearts, and what is produced misses the mark.
You end up with a ragged shrub wearing scraps of metal.
How triumphant, then, is the glorious Christmas tree of today!
“…The evergreen theme continues to weave its way through the history of Christmas trees as a symbol of the promise of life to come…” (link) While this statement refers to the warmth of spring after a cold, hard winter, there is another Parallel here. The truth of eternal Life in Christ, who has abolished death! bears witness of Itself throughout this same history.