As most people already know, the Christmas Tree doesn’t have anything to do with Christianity. It was a pagan symbol for a pagan holiday, and when the Christian church appropriated the holiday they simply took many of its traditional customs and decorations along for the ride without question. I dunno if they were being clever or lazy, but it clearly worked.
It does make for a delicious point of irony however, which I exploit to multiply my enjoyment of the holiday immensely.
The early church fathers obviously never stopped to think about how this symbolism would be interpreted by someone unfamiliar with Christmas’s pagan origins, AND unfamiliar with Christian holiday traditions, but who IS very familiar with the Christian holy scriptures. Granted, such a combination would be very unusual back in their day. And, given that I haven’t heard what I’m about to say before, probably this day as well.
Assume no previous knowledge of Christmas at all, but a decent knowledge of one of the popular protestant bibles. If someone were to ask you about the most famous tree in the Christian myths, what would you say? Almost invariably – the Tree in the Garden of Eden which Adam & Eve ate from. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Some might mention the almost-as-famous Tree of Life, but that one didn’t get any screen time in the stories. More esoteric answers might include Daniel’s giant tree or Jesus’s cursed fig tree, but neither of those is as well known.
Furthermore, the fruit of those trees is inconsequential. When one observes an actual Christmas Tree as most people decorate it, there is great importance placed upon the fruits of the tree. Spherical glass ornaments, often elaborately decorated, are placed all over the tree. The resemblance to idealized, exaggerated fruits is striking. Lights are also hung from the tree, perhaps supernatural berries, glowing and enticing. Both are designed to catch the attention of the viewer. What biblical fruit is as important as the one which Adam and Eve ate in Genesis?
This seems somewhat odd though, because this Tree and its Fruit are not pleasing to the Christian God. As we read in the Genesis story, he instructed the humans to avoid this Tree, warning that it would kill them. When they did eat of its fruit he flew into a fearful rage and banished them from the Garden – setting angelic guards and burning swords at the entrance – to ensure they couldn’t get their hands on the Tree of Life as well. Why would a Christian be venerating the Tree of Knowledge?
Ah, but eating of the Fruit did bring benefits to mankind. First, it exposed the lies of Yahweh – they did not die. But far more importantly – it opened their eyes, bringing them knowledge and making them wise. In fact it made them as wise as God himself, thus his panic. (Gen 3:22 – And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”) In this way the tale is similar to that of Prometheus stealing fire from the Gods and giving it to Man. By their sacrifice all of humanity was uplifted, and we are now better, stronger, smarter than we were before. Enough so to be a threat.
And this is why I love the Christmas Tree so much. It is a celebration of Mankind’s first steps forward into seizing our own destiny. Showing gratitude to those who came before us and paid the price so their children could aspire to greater. And giving the finger to a god who would keep us ignorant. The Christmas Tree of Knowledge says “We remember. You tried to keep us weak and servile, and you failed. We’re still growing in power and in knowledge, and we’re coming for you next.”
I love that most Christians don’t seem to realize this is what their holiday centerpiece implies, and it makes me smile every time I see one being raised. So put up your own Tree of Knowledge and celebrate humanity. And if you want to really drive the point home, put some educational books around the base, or replacing the star on top. Just so no one mistakes you for one who doesn’t grasp the significance of what we celebrate to this day.