Sunday, December 9, 2007

Christmas Tree Decorating Tradition

Why we wait to decorate our tree until Christmas Eve.


For the past few years our family has practiced this tradition as opposed to decorating the tree immediately after it is positioned in the home. Ideally, I would like to place the tree in the home on Christmas Eve however, this is almost as unpopular as opening gifts the day after Christmas. The family endures an undecorated tree until Christmas Eve for good reason. Its roots are echoed in our salvation history.

Differing from those homes and shops with beautifully adorned Christmas trees long before Christmas Day, the family endures a kind of expectation, an awaiting for more than just gifts. This suffering, so to speak, has its spiritual rewards. Yes, the mean dad has his good reasons.

The effect of waiting to decorate a tree, alongside with waiting to open gifts, further anticipates the expectation of Christ in a however non-consumerist way. The effect is similar to the long awaited four thousand year expectation of the Promised Messias for mankind's redemption. It is consistent with the preparation for Christmas that the Church provides us with in the Advent season tradition. For it is not until Christmas morning that the tree display is finally fulfilled with long awaited beauty and finally sparkling with long anticipated adornment. Throughout Advent the family knows that not until the Incarnation of the Redeemer, will the tree be lit just as not until the Incarnation was the promise of the light of salvation revealed. This relief and satisfaction of a promise fulfilled translates to a deep and real appreciation of the true expectation experienced with mankind's longing for the Messias and God's making good on His promise to the world.

An argument can be attempted that the same effect is achieved by waiting until Christmas morning to open gifts. There are, in my estimation, deep problems with this solitary approach towards celebrating Christmas. When I grew up I spent my evenings before Christmas gazing upon our decorated tree, thinking nothing more than the momentous unwrapping of gifts. We had our religious traditions, lighting the advent wreath candles, placing the Christ Child into the nativity set on Christmas Day, etc. but I soon discovered that celebrating Christmas too soon, that is, adorning our home inside and out with festive party decor as if Christmas was a 32 day ordeal, led to a sort of battle fatigue by the time Christmas Day arrived. The 'Christmas blues', that we hear about, I believe stems from this kind of fatigue. Christmas is celebrated in the 12 days AFTER the Feast of the Incarnation, not a month before. Spending Advent and then Christmas Day in an exhausting ritual of purchases, ripping apart wrapping paper, and sifting through styrofoam, in my experience was tiresome, boring, and just plain shallow. Not that this was ever the focus of Christmas in my childhood, as my parents and local priests did their duty in instilling Christ as the center of the Advent season. Nevertheless, the allurements of the world as seen in a constant stream of commercials and 'holiday' music can take its toll on our perception of what should be a penitential season.

Pope Benedict XVI recently lamented this type of consumerism at his Dec. 8, 2007 noon blessing in St. Peter's Square:

"I think about today's young people, raised in an environment saturated with messages proposing false models of happiness . . . These boys and girls risk losing hope because they often seem to be orphans of true love, which fills life with meaning and joy . . . adolescents, youths and even children are easy victims of the corruption of love, deceived by unscrupulous adults who, lying to themselves and to them, draw them into the dead-end streets of consumerism."

And again at his Dec. 11, 2007 noon blessing in St. Peter's Square where he called for conversion saying:

"men and women of our time, who live and receive Christmas in such a way that unfortunately, they often suffer from a materialistic mentality.

. . . at the end of our days on earth, at the time of death, we will be judged according to our likeness or unlikeness with the child that is born in the poor cave of Bethlehem, because he is the standard of measure that God gave mankind. . . [St. John the Baptist's] clear and harsh words – I agree- are much healthier for us, men and women of our time, where the way of life and frequent perception of Christmas unfortunately suffers from a materialistic mentality. The 'voice' of the great prophet calls us to prepare the way for the Lord to come, in the deserts of today, deserts outside and inside, thirsty for the living water that is Christ."

Unfortunately, in modern cultures Christmas Day is stripped down with a rush of opening gifts and hopefully attending Mass on the Feast Day itself. By adopting other traditions - arrival of Jesus in the crib of the manger scene, arrival of the sheep and shepherds in the manger scene, lighting the outside lights and the Christmas tree beginning first on Christmas Day, all can contribute to our true joy fulfilled in anticipating the Day long awaited by the human race. A joy that reminds us of our last end and true vocation in life - to get to heaven.

The whole objective with all this is to turn our hearts toward our redemption and how merciful God is to mankind and to us. It'd be nice to wait until Christmas Eve for the tree itself - an old Christmas tradition or maybe using such a repulsive plant (like a Joshua tree) that the children's thoughts, and ours can be turned away from gifts. This, as well as keeping the Christmas films and music packaged away until the Feast Day - December 25 - when, for the next 12 days, we can celebrate in full splendor (music, singing, lights, prayer, and appropriate entertainment) the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

Meredith said...

Beautiful post, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this!