A seemingly endless number of traditions bubble to the surface during the Christmas season.
Special foods, unique social engagements, unusual decorations—many of us find that at this time of the year, we do some things that would be a touch odd at any other time of the year.
Take the Christmas tree. Please, take the tree! (my apologies to Henny Youngman.)
What possesses us to bring a conifer into our houses for several weeks a year?
In our family the Christmas tree has brought no end of enjoyment, aggravation and crisis.
Early on in my marriage, I thought that things were going fairly well as we blended Christmas traditions until my wife innocently suggested that we go into the woods and cut our own tree. For reasons best recounted elsewhere, our relationship was well-tested by that experience. Still, rare is the year we don’t make the foray off into the wilderness to find “just the right tree.”
We did so this year and had a lovely afternoon out only to discover that the “right tree” was actually located at a local retail outlet. So it goes.
But again, why a tree? The roots of the tradition (forgive me) are a bit uncertain, but Christmas trees first began appearing in Eastern Europe about 600 years ago, though some do link it to the time of St. Boniface, some 700 years earlier. The Christmas tree’s real popularity can be dated from the mid-19th century when Queen Victoria had one raised at Buckingham Palace and we have been in full Christmas tree mode since then. Still, there seems to be some general understanding that the tradition was likely borrowed from paganism and that it may be quite ancient in origin.
For some reason this connection outside of the Christian faith has caused a little consternation for some of my sisters and brothers in Christ.
I would like to suggest that this practice of drawing tradition from elsewhere is not a slight to the faith, but is instead instructive about the way the Christian faith actually functions.
In reality, no one is born a Christian. As much as parents might hope otherwise, it is not an inherited condition, but it is a choice.
Some come into the faith at an early age, others much, much later in life. But for a period of time, all of us are something other than Christian. Hence, rejection of something because it has non-Christian origins is a bit curious in the light of the fact that every follower of Jesus has a non-Christian origin.
So, why a Christmas tree? I haven’t the foggiest notion. But they can tell us an interesting story.
The Rev. Phillip Spencer is at St. Stephen’s United Church, Qualicum Beach.