Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent 2011: Why the Pine?

"What may be known about God is plain to them, because God made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine qualities--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that mean are without excuse." Romans 1:19-20

The Christmas Tree is the center of seasonal fun around the world.  Some use it for Christmas on Dec 25th while others put it up for New Year’s celebrations.  But, each year as I assemble this icon of the  season, one thing always fascinates me – Why the pine?  Why is it that we are not decorating oak trees or maple trees, or even palm trees?  Throughout the world in so many other cultures, the story is the same; we decorate pines, firs and other evergreens to celebrate the season of Christmas and New Year.  But, Why?

According to the Christmas Tree Farm Network, before Christ, evergreens were used in winter solstice celebrations.  It is know that that Egyptians worshipped evergreens at this time of year using date palms to symbolize a triumph over death.  The Romans also celebrated the winter solstice with a celebration called Saturnalia.  On Saturnalia, Romans hung greens, lights and exchanged gifts to honor one of their many gods, the god of agriculture, Saturnus.  Closer to our part of the world, the wood priests of Great Britain (known as Druids) used evergreens in their rituals to symbolize eternal life and keep away evil spirits.  And in the middle ages, Germans and Scandinavians placed evergreen trees near the doors of their homes to ward off evil spirits. 
Although modern Christmas traditions probably evolved from these non-Christian rituals, it was a man named Martin Luther who really brought began the traditions that we uphold today.  Legend has it that Luther was walking in the woods on a snowy evening when he came upon a group of snow-covered evergreens.  The moonlight danced on the branches and snow twinkled like the stars with such beauty that Luther was captivated.  Wanting to share this vision with his children, Luther brought in a fir tree and began decorating it with candles as he told of the trees’ shimmering beauty.  Once the tree was covered in candles, he lit them to honor Christ’s birth.
Today, we do not worship trees nor the gifts that we exchange.  However, sometimes it is difficult to Christ in Christmas because of these things.  Each year as we bring out our trees, we should remember that it is not just a thing of beauty to adorn our homes.  It is a reminder of the trees given to us by our loving God.  It is a reminder of the snow-covered trees whose twinkling beauty can capture our breath, reminding us of God’s greatness.

Christmas Adventus Day 3:  Place the green, brown, and star buttons in bag #3 on our advent garland.  Have your angels take down the bag and see what is inside.  Tell them that this is everything that they need to make a tree but what kind of tree do they think that it will make?  Read today's story and make button tree ornaments.

For our other Advent activities, see "Christmas Adventus 2011: Celebrating Allergy-Free".

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