There have been warnings since Hallowe’en that Christmas trees would be scarce and expensive this year. Most of us have found that this is true. But the best deals were to be found at last weekend’s Boy Scouts Pancake Breakfast, where trees were plentiful and selling for reasonable prices. It was a great opportunity to support the Scouts and get ready for Christmas, and the community showed up for it.
Many of us have also been enjoying the nicely decorated BA community Christmas tree, named Luce, at the corner of Buck and Tomlinson Roads. There were Christmas stories read and tea served there last Sunday afternoon. Christmas trees seem like such a natural and fitting feature of the season that it may be hard to believe that they have only been popular in this country for the past 100 years. In fact they were viewed with a certain amount of suspicion by some in the New Church in the period after the Civil War. New Church Life articles from the 1880s and 90s criticize them as “dead trees without roots” and “a pagan tradition from a dead church.” While this was probably not the majority view, it reflects the fact that Christmas trees were a new and unfamiliar custom at that time.
Christmas trees originated in Germany in the very earliest days of Christianity there, before the 15th century. The most accepted explanation of their origin is that they were intended to represent the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. The tradition was brought to England by Prince Albert in the 1840s and was popularized by Charles Dickens. In the United States it was common among German immigrants, but it was the popularity of the British royal family and Charles Dickens that brought it to public attention. President Franklin Pierce arranged to have the first Christmas tree in the White House in the 1850s.
While these things led to Americans being aware of Christmas trees, they did not catch on and become common practice for more than 50 years. By 1900 one in five American households set up a tree. By 1920 the custom was nearly universal. By then, of course, the early church suspicions were long forgotten. The truth is that trees feature prominently in the Word and represent different aspects of wisdom and intelligence. Each tree has its own meaning, and the idea that the various evergreen varieties used for Christmas trees can be seen as standing for the Tree of Life seems especially fitting, since this tree represents the Lord Himself.
So enjoy your tree and its place in our Christmas celebrations!