It’s not the tree

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

There’s a song, part of its lyric runs this way: “There’s a tree in the forest, a tree that will give you a sign…” There are “trees” sprouting not in the forest but in malls, commercial and business establishments, parks, offices, schools, yards and homes that give a sign – Christmas is near. Even a child in the Christian world knows that and like all others, anticipate with joy the coming of the season.

Traditionally, the Christmas tree is made from the evergreen fir tree used to celebrate the pagan and pre-Christian winter festivals for thousands of years. Dozens of songs have been written about this tree. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come.

The practice continued during the Christian era as the decorated tree took on a new meaning – as a sign of everlasting life with God and a renewal of God’s promise with the coming of Jesus. The term “Christmas” is derived from the phrase “Mass on Christ’s Day” commemorating the day when Jesus was born.

The word, however, has become too popular that people take it for granted without pondering what it is and should really mean. Their understanding of the Filipino version of the Christmas tree is as phony as the plastic leaves and decorations. It is as if the commercialized tree is hypocrisy itself.

Central to Christmas is Christ, none other. Without Him, there is no such day, only commercial exploitation of the Christian believers who ought to know better. Christmas, after all, means bonuses and spending spree.

If we move further on, without Christ, the Christmas tree is just a yuletide tree when pagan Europe celebrated the winter solstice.

To the pagans, the celebration is related to the sun (or sol in Latin) but for the Christian, the Christmas Tree is about the birth of Christ and not the winter. A Christmas tree must, therefore, have Christ or Jesus at its central focus; without Him that tree is just another pagan practice.

Of course, most Christians do not know or realize this but should it not be the time now to give the true meaning and purpose to this decorated tree? Unfortunately, teachers even in Catholic schools have neglected to emphasize the focus and importance of the celebration that should be Christ-centered.

I am not saying we should do away with the Christmas tree. I am pointing out, however, the absence of the Nativity Scene which represents more what Christmas is. The Christmas tree is all aglow with a wide variety of colors and light that attracts people. The more gigantic the tree, the more imposing (and costly) it is.

On the other hand, the colors and lights of the Nativity scene is subdued. Indeed, God intended it to be that way, the reason His Son was born not in a palace but in a shepherd’s place of refuge.

I can understand that some people are averse or infuriated with a Nativity Scene because it has statues in them – Jesus, Mary and Joseph. They consider them idolatry though they give honor and flourish to statues of human heroes without thinking about idolatry when they salute, honor and place flowers before them.

If religious sensitivity is the issue, then have them both but not the tree alone to the exclusion of Jesus who was born that December night with Mary and Joseph with him. It is not the tree that historically and truly represents Christmas but Christ – it is the Mass celebrated for Jesus that day and not for the tree.

Tomorrow begins the Advent Season, the four weeks of waiting for the birth of Jesus. Catholic churches and some non-Catholic congregations with long years of Catholic practices in them will have an Advent wreath. It has three purple candles and one pink. The violet is for penitential and the pink is for joy (Gaudete). On the third Sunday of Advent, the priest wears a pink chasuble, the only time of the liturgical year when this color is used. Each week one candle is lighted

The Church also encourages families to have an Advent wreath in their homes or places of work as a constant reminder of the countdown to Christmas Day.*