December 15: O Tannenbaum

Many symbols are displayed during the Christmas season, but none other than the Christmas Tree gets its own carol.  I’ve given a couple of versions for your enjoyment today.  The first is a rendition by the Three Tenors.  The Second is the jazz version used in the Peanuts Christmas episode performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio.

The Christmas Tree is an interesting case to consider as a cultural phenomenon.  Manger scenes have been increasingly removed from municipal “Holiday” displays because they are too overtly religious.  The Christmas Tree has maintained its position in the center of Holiday community celebrations.  Many local communities enjoy the tradition of setting up, decorating, and lighting a Christmas tree in the town center or another well populated location.

The Christmas Tree is allowed because it carries no specific religious meaning.  Symbols are like that in our world today.  For one person the Nike swoosh might represent winning and elite competition.  For others the swoosh represents the dedication to change their lifestyle, lose weight, and get healthy.  For others the swoosh is a symbol of everything that’s wrong with our greedy society that takes advantage of young athletes to make a buck.  The Nike swoosh is an image, and meaning gets attached to it.

The Christmas tree is an image, and meaning gets attached to it too.  For many the tree is set up as the place for Santa to put the presents.  For others, it’s the focal point around which the family gathers.  I suppose some guys even look at the yearly trek into the woods with saw in hand as a manly coming of age experience for young boys to become men.  Some earth-centered Wiccans might even use the tree as a pagan symbol of fertility.  Meaning gets attached to the symbol so many people can use it around the “Holidays.”

What meaning will you attach to your tree?  Is it a symbol of family?  Gifts?  Warm feelings?  Or is it more?  The question really has less to do with the tree itself, and more to your whole Christmas experience.  What’s it for?  What’s at the center?  Spend some time listening to the carols and consider what is at the center of your Christmas experience.  To what does your Christmas tree point?  Or better yet, to whom does it point?  For me, the experience of Christmas helps me remember that the one who made the tree chose to die on the tree for you and for me.  O Tannenbaum, how lovely are those branches!

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