December 12, 2013: O, Christmas Tree

~by Susi Pittman

It is the most wonderful time of the year! And particularly at this time of Advent, we see great displays of lights on homes in cities and communities, some of which are extremely thrilling to see and experience. As Catholics, we have observed the lighting of the night beginning AT Christmas so as to celebrate the arrival of the light of the world to Earth to initiate the kingdom of God long since promised.

In our own homes, it is the Christmas tree that warms our hearths and hearts. Why do we have the beautiful evergreen gracing our living space with us?

It is held in high opinion that the birthplace of the Christmas tree was at Alsace during the early modern period of Germany.  True, use of the evergreen was heralded in ancient Chinese, Hebrew and Egyptian cultures, but it was from Germany that the modern day tradition actually evolved.

The most popular trees in the United States are the Douglas, Balsam and Frazier Firs. In Europe, it is the Norway Spruce, Silver Fir and Noble Fir. Mostly gone are the days of walking into the backwoods and chopping down the perfect tree. Most all trees in the United States are commercially grown on tree farms. It takes anywhere from 8 to 12 years for a Christmas tree to reach 7-feet in height. The grooming and cutting of the tree is truly an art-form to achieve the beauty and shape of the trees we have come to love.

It is interesting to note, that in Europe, Italy was the last country to accept the Christmas tree tradition. It was Blessed Pope John II that introduced the Christmas tree custom to the Vatican in 1982. On December 19, 2004, Blessed Pope John Paul II had this to say about the Christmas tree:

Next to the crib, as in St. Peter’s Square, we find the traditional ‘Christmas tree.’ This too is an ancient tradition that exalts the value of life, for in the winter season the evergreen fir becomes a sign of undying life. Christmas gifts are usually placed on the tree or arranged at its base. The symbol thus also becomes eloquent in a typically Christmas sense: it calls to mind the ‘tree of life,’ a figure of Christ, God’s supreme gift to humanity.

The message of the Christmas tree is consequently that life stays ‘evergreen’ if we make a gift of it: not so much of material things, but of life itself: in friendship and sincere affection, in fraternal help and forgiveness, in time shared and reciprocal listening.

In this great message, Blessed John Paul II calls us to recognize that the Christmas tree, the evergreen, symbol of eternal life, calls us to recognize the true meaning of this season by making a gift of ourselves to others in the same way that we have given ourselves to Jesus.

May love and forgiveness be your footpath this Advent dear friends.

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Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; a member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Council of Women in Jacksonville, Florida; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

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