Have you ever wondered why every year millions of perfectly good trees are ceremoniously cut down, dragged to lots, sold for outrageous sums of money and carried home to be adorned in electricity and ornaments for a few weeks…only to later be stripped of their luminous glory and left outside on the curb for the garbage man?
Perhaps you have a fake tree instead, which might seem less like arbor homicide but is still an odd act of holiday decoration and “worship.” Gathering around fake tree limbs covered in tinsel is not any more “normal” than doing the same with a living, less synthetic alternative.
A few years ago I bought my live Christmas tree far too early. Usually I hold off on getting one until the week before Christmas, so that I can enjoy the smell of a freshly cut tree for a couple of weeks after. This one particular year, however, I got a little overexcited and purchased my tree about a week after Thanksgiving. The day after Christmas I literally had to peel the lights from the brittle needles. I swept them up and carried the large, dry fire hazard out to the trash.
The whole scene saddened me a little bit. The tree was dead. The lights were down. Gifts needed to be returned. People started back to work and to school. Christmas was over. But it made me think, “Where did the tradition of the Christmas tree come from?”
Some traditions have it that the tree became a popular symbol used at Christmastime because of an eighth-century saint. St. Boniface was a missionary who brought Christianity to Germany way back in the seven hundreds. Most of the Germans were worshiping false gods at the time, and some were even sacrificing humans. St. Boniface cut down a giant oak tree (sacred to one of the false gods) and used it as a symbol of Christ, a sign of peace and of life.
Christ died on a tree, so that we might live like one. We are the symbols of Christ’s love and light and life in this world. We are the ones who point up to Christ and take attention off the false gods that can blind our loved ones. We are real, living and breathing, even when we feel dried out, fake, or even dead. We are living because Christ lives within us by virtue of our Baptism.
May your legs, like a trunk, stand firm in the truth.
May your arms, like branches, uphold all of God’s creation.
May your holiness, like the tree’s scent, draw others closer to the Lord.
May your joy, like the lights, make others smile.
May your life, like the treetop, point directly to Heaven.
Happy Advent, and Merry Christmas.