Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Sixth Day of Christmas: on the evils of Christmas trees!

A friend suggested I posted on when you should take down your Christmas tree - twelfth night or the end of Epiphanytide?  I have to admit I don't have a strong view on this subject (but see below).

But I did receive one of those wacky extreme fundamentalist emails (perhaps sicced onto me by my brother?!) suggesting that the whole Christmas tree thing was a bit of left over Baal worship, so perhaps its good to reflect on the whole tradition for a moment!

A pagan sacrifice?

According to 'GEOgram', Christmas trees are a bit of syncretism of the kind condemned by Our Lord:

"Having survived the end of the age as predicted by the heathen false prophets of the human-sacrificing Mayan culture, we still face the “Christianized” finale of the season of Baal – that hideous annual event wherein a singular member of the ancient groves was sacrificed to Tammuz. I am, of course, referencing the Spiritual Sustenance annually derived through imbibing in the Spirit associated with “things offered to idols” (Acts 21:25).

For those who can’t see the forest for the trees, this is yet another assault on the now universal practice of killing a “green tree” (II Kings 16:4), dragging it into your home, and labeling it “Christian.”"

Could it be true?  Well no.

The tradition of decorating trees for Christmas is actually quite modern - dating back no further than the Renaissance at best, and taking its current form in eighteenth century Germany.

And it actually seems to commemorate St Boniface's very un-pc missionary strategy of cutting down a sacred tree dedicated to Thor, and daring the false god to strike him down for the sacrilege if he really existed.  The saint survived; those present converted forthwith to Christianity!

The only alternative explanation I've found with any credibility for the tradition with any credibility is that the tree represents the tree of paradise (those red shiny balls symbolise the apples).

When syncretism isn't!

Moreover, even if a custom like this did have pagan origins, there is a big difference between Christianizing something and stripping it of its original connotations and outright syncretism.

Syncretism means incorporating actual pagan elements into our worship - it means illicit practices such as putting a Buddha in a Church in a position near the tabernacle (as happened in South Brisbane in days of old!), or incorporating elements of Aboriginal spirit worship into the Mass (as I'm told happens all too frequently in certain dioceses!).  

By contrast, genuine 'inculturation' occurred when the Church substituted a Christian feast for a previous pagan one celebrated on the same day, or destroyed a pagan temple, and built a Christan Church on the site.

So how long should your tree stay up?

The point of my friends question was that the season of Christmas doesn't end with Christmas Day, the Octave, or even after twelfth night.  In fact it extends up until the end of Epiphanytide on January 13.

So when should you take down that tree?  My view is when its starting to fade and look a bit dead, or the end of Epiphanytide, whichever comes sooner, but I'm sure others have different views!


R J said...

The idea of the Christmas-tree-loving (and, in mid-19th-century England, Christmas-tree-importing) Prince Albert having been some kind of pagan would be laughable if it were not so tragically ignorant.

I think a good New Year's Resolution would be to eschew that false compassion for fundie Catholic-haters to which Australian Catholicism's "leadership" now seems addicted.

Maureen said...

I always take our tree down on New Year's Eve; or sooner, if it's wilting in the heat. I can't bear it hanging around into the New Year - to me, all the tinsel and glitter looks tawdry after December 25th !
Next year, I am going to have a lace tree, if I can finish it in time - no glitter in sight!