Christmas Trees

“Christ is born! Glorify Him!” These words express the great joy Orthodox Christians experience each year as they celebrate the Nativity of their Lord.

Have you bought your Christmas Tree yet?  or do you wait till the last evening and then try to find one in hopes of getting one free?  Do you go out and cut one down or get an artificial one?  Do you even get one?  In the modern world, Christmas has been reduced to the sensual pleasures of the flesh. Each year, Christmas becomes less and less an event of spiritual substance. The joy of Christmas is now centered on what we eat, what we hang, and what we receive.

“A Christmas tree is a decorated tree, usually an evergreen conifer such as spruce, pine or fir, traditionally associated with the celebration of Christmas. An artificial Christmas tree is an object made to resemble such a tree, usually made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

The tree was traditionally decorated with edibles such as apples, nuts or dates. In the 18th century, it began to be illuminated by candles, which with electrification could also be replaced by Christmas lights. Today, there are a wide variety of traditional ornaments, such as garland, tinsel, and candy canes. An angel or star may be placed at the top of the tree to represent the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity.

The custom of the Christmas tree developed in early modern Germany with predecessors that can be traced to the 16th and possibly the 15th century, in which “devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes”.  It acquired popularity beyond Germany during the second half of the 19th century.  The Christmas tree has also been known as the “Yule-tree”, especially in discussions of its folkloristic origins.” from Wikipedia

Our Orthodox faith is worked out in the fabric of our lives and involves more than our worship in the Temple, extending from there into our homes and other surroundings.  Sadly, in our modern era, many of the connections between Temple and home, between faith and life, have been forgotten. We no longer know why we put lights in our windows. It is no longer obvious to us why we hang ornaments on our trees.

It is this division between “sacred” and “secular” that Orthodox Christians must reject. Satan would like us to leave our worship of the Christ Child in the Temple; he would like us to live disjointed lives. Our struggle must be to bring our worship home with us; it must be to connect every aspect of our lives with the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Altar. Thankfully, we do not have to figure out how to do this on our own. Our tradition is full of wonderful customs that already do it for us.

Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos had this to say:
“I suspect that the custom of decorating a tree at Christmas time is not simply a custom which came to us from the West and which we should replace with other more Orthodox customs. To be sure, I have not gone into the history of the Christmas tree and where it originated, but I think that it is connected with the Christmas feast and its true meaning.

First, it is not unrelated to the prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah:
 “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” (Is. 11:1). St. Cosmas the Poet had this prophecy in mind when he wrote of Christ as the blossom which rose up out of the Virgin stem from the stump of Jesse. The root is Jesse, David’s father, the rod is King David, the flower which came from the root and the rod is the Theotokos. And the fruit which came forth from the flower of the Panagia is Christ. Holy Scripture presents this wonderfully. Thus the Christmas tree can remind us of the genealogical tree of Christ as Man, the love of God, but also the successive purifications of the Forefathers of Christ. At the top is the star which is the God-Man (Theanthropos) Christ.

Then, the Christmas tree reminds us of the tree of knowledge as well as the tree of life, but especially the latter. It underlines clearly the truth that Christ is the tree of life and that we cannot live or fulfill the purpose of our existence unless we taste of this tree, “the producer of life”. Christmas cannot be conceived without Holy Communion. And of course as for Holy Communion it is not possible to partake of deification in Christ without having conquered the devil when we found ourselves faced with temptation relative to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, where our freedom is tried. 

We rejoice and celebrate, because “the Tree of Life blossomed from the Virgin in the cave”.
”
Excerpt from the book titled The Feasts of the Lord: An Introduction to the 12 Feasts and Orthodox Christology, 1993.

In my humble Christian opinion, there is nothing wrong with decorating Christmas trees, hanging Christmas lights and enjoying wonderful Christmas treats.

Christmas celebrates the great mystery of the Incarnation. In that mystery God the Word became man. In order to redeem us, God became one of us. He became part of His own creation. The Incarnation affirms the importance of both man and the whole of creation. “For God so loved the world…”

A faith which would seek to divorce itself from all elements of the material world in search for an absolutely spiritual religion overlooks this most central mystery of Christmas, the mystery of God becoming man, the Incarnation. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Enjoy your Christmas Tree!

Christmas Tree Lights Paris

40DAYSBLOGThis is day twenty-three of the 40 Days of Blogging.
For more articles on Christmas Trees, check out these bloggers.

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About padrerichard

I am a Priest with ROCOR and serve as Rector at St. Joseph of Optina Parish in Virginia Beach, VA
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