The Christmas Tree Tradition

By Wuhazet – Henryk Żychowski (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Back when we were in the One True Church we had two rules.  The first rule was that no one in the church owned a television .  The second was that we didn’t celebrate Christmas.

The great thing about being in an oppressively legalistic church is that you become very creative.  You get to draw upon your sanctified imagination to maintain a front of over-comer holiness on the one hand and nuanced sensitivity that works around the system to get what you want on the other.

When my wife and I were engaged, Brother Serious reached out to us to go to a local coffee shop where they could share with us their experience and wisdom to help us in our forthcoming marriage.  We met them on a Monday night.  Brother Serious sat me next to him on his side of the table.  Our wives sat on the other side.  I looked up and saw that Brother Serious had sat me and him directly in front of a television set playing Monday Night football.  I don’t think I actually learned (or even heard) anything about marriage but my wife did develop into a rather skilled wide receiver.

Some years later after the children were born, we left the the One True Church though the rules to some degree went with us.  Our Sunday school class discovered that we had never had a Christmas tree and thus no ornaments so one evening they put together their used Christmas decorations and showed up unexpected to our house caroling.  At last we could be like other families, form traditions, and even give our kids personalized ornaments for them to cherish.  One of our boy’s personal ornaments is a sparkling Christmas tree that says, “Merry Christmas, Jennifer.”

Some years later, we moved across country to the mountains where Christmas trees are grown.  We had still not gotten a Christmas tree of our own but we were miles away from the judgmental looks of the One True church.  And we had a house that was large enough to accommodate.   It was time for a rites of passage.

Everything was closed down on that Christmas Eve in our small town.  We pulled into a deserted Christmas tree lot where all the trees had been sold.  Over by the dumpsters were some discards.  We looked up the street and down.  We then flung open the hatchback, threw a discarded tree in, slammed the trunk and sped home.  We pulled into the garage, closed the door, drew the blinds, put up “Merry Christmas, Jennifer”.

And we did us a Christmas tree.

Now that the kids are grown, we stopped doing Christmas trees.   We figured that the annual ritual of decorating the house would be less work if we eliminated that one item.  Further, being the materialists we are, we succeeded in covering every square inch of our once spacious house.

But there is a tradition that stayed.  Each year, we put up an apple crate filled with hay.  On Christmas morn, anatomically correct Baby Joey appears in the crate wrapped in a blanket to represent Jesus.  Because this is the profound truth of the season.  Not a philosophy.  Not a moral code.  Not a religion.  Not a political system.

But a Person who stepped into time and space on that day two thousand years ago.  And the One faithful believers believe will one day return in the same physical and tangible way.



Why Am I Not Enjoying the Christmas Season?

By Sander van der Wel from Netherlands ([36/365] Christmas bokeh) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Sander van der Wel from Netherlands ([36/365] Christmas bokeh) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

My holiday season is filled with fun activities – a parade, concerts, dinners, and a carol sing, for example –  and I really want to enjoy them.  Yet it all feels like burdensome work and another item on the tyrannical task list.  Will our house be ready?  Will the bills be paid?  What gift will I find for this person or that?   And we need that final edit and photo for the family newsletter!

Charlie Brown’s angst of Christmas losing its meaning is old news.  After all, we live in a culture where, if anything, Christmas means too much – there is no end to Christmas specials helping us understand the multitudinous  pitches of “the true meaning of Christmas.”

Nevertheless, that isn’t where the problem lay.  Blaming culture is a cop out.   If I am disturbed, says an annoying quote from recovery circles, the problem is with me.

Current  Advent readings draw me back to what is true and substantive.   Unlike our Western propensity to see this dispensation solely as sparkle season, the Advent readings actually pull us to  a place of sparseness looking ahead with expectation but examining our hearts to question:  Is everything right?

Case in point is this morning’s reading highlighting John the Baptist in the deserted wilderness:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” says John as the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

Contemplative Christian spirituality is often seen in terms of attachments.  We are surrounded in culture with the prolific voices that are not God clamoring for our attention.  When these driving voices begin to take hold of our hearts enlarging beyond degree our attention on the trivial and the narrow, they become attachments.  When these attachments become strong bonds, they are called addictions.

Here are the major attachments so says some very smart Christians:

  • Wealth – My need to be secure.
  • Honor – My need to be well thought of.
  • Power – My need to be in control.
  • Pleasure – My need to feel good.

None of these things are necessarily bad in and of itself – we all by necessity experience all of these to some degree.  The problem comes when they become so enmeshed in my heart that I am completely given to the distraction and tangential and have completely lost sight of my call to love God with all my hearts, soul and strength and to love my neighbor as myself.

The American holiday season exacerbates the problem of attachments for me.  The extra expenses draws me to be preoccupied with money and making sure everything is budgeted correctly (Wealth).   In social gatherings, I want people to listen to me and think highly of my input (Honor).   I have a large task list of items that need to be done and I want the ability to move people to action or out of my way so I can accomplish my goals (Power).  In my weariness, I want these events to help me feel better, give me a thrill and help my tired soul feel human (Pleasure).

When these attachments don’t deliver the promised satisfaction, I find myself in a daze wondering when the whole, damn holiday season will be over with.

This is why John’s voice from the desert is such a clarifying voice:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”   When did Advent stop becoming the quiet anticipation for the coming King who sets all things right?  When did Advent suddenly become all about me and my responsibilities?

Bishop Robert Barron says, “Repentance means stop thinking about life as my project.  Start thinking that my life is not about me.  My life belongs to God and serves God’s purposes.  

“All my diversions and attachments are subservient to the idea that my life is all about me; my life is a project of self-satisfaction.”

In the quiet desert morning where John’s exhortations are taken to heart, I look up with a new hope,  I hear the distant promise, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light”.  Advent tells me it is not about me.  Advent tells me there is forward-looking hope that transcends the clutter and the chatter.

Bishop Robert Barron’s full sermon may be found here.