Another beautiful piece originally published on December 28th, 1993. Please enjoy, and we hope you have had a Merry Christmas.
It is cold and clear in the small town of Bethlehem, this night, in the days of Caesar Augustus. Cyrenius is governor of Syria, and we would find the road busy with people returning to their home town for the census. Bethlehem hums with the influx, and the only inn is jammed with travellers. The low-ceilinged rooms are hot and stuffy, and so we go back outside into the velvet dark, in which the stars sparkle like diamonds lit from behind.
We believe this text originated from the following source.
One of the most popular of the medieval German mystery plays was the Paradise play, representing the creation of man, the sin of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Paradise. This play became a favorite for Advent because it usually ended with the consoling promise of a Savior. As a matter of fact, the closing scenes led directly to the story of Bethlehem. In this play, the Garden of Eden was represented by a large tree symbolizing the "Tree of Discernment of Good and Evil." The Paradise tree was usually surrounded by lighted candles and the play enacted within the circle of lights. The Paradise tree gradually found its way into the homes of the people. The custom arose of setting it up once a year in honor of Adam and Eve on their feast, December 24. This particular feast, never celebrated in the Latin Church, was borrowed from the Eastern Rite. At this time the tree was bedecked with the symbolic apple, but further than that it bore no other resemblance to our present Christmas tree. But, at the same time, Christ was not forgotten. The Christmas candle in honor of Christ, the light of the world, was placed on top of a wooden pyramid, adorned with tinsel and colored glass balls. It was during the fifteenth century that more ornamentation began to appear on the tree. Since the Paradise tree already bore the fruit of Adam and Eve's sin, it was now thought proper to add a symbol of the "saving fruit" of the Blessed Sacrament. Accordingly, small white wafers were placed on its branches. Later, when imaginations began working overtime, shapes of men, birds, roosters, lions and other animals were also hung on the tree. But it was insisted that these latter had to be cut from brown dough; the wafers were made from white dough. People living in the sixteenth century finally began to notice the similarity between the tree and the Christmas pyramid. The tree was, so to say, a living pyramid and they might well combine the two — the tree and the lights. From then on, it became the Christmas tree. As time went on, the cookie forms disappeared and ornaments, made in symbolic shapes, took their place. By now, these have been replaced by meaningless decorated balls. However, even these need not lose their symbolism. The colored balls become more meaningful and more beautiful if religious pictures, symbolizing Christmas, are pasted or painted upon them. Your religious Christmas cards can supply you with ample pictures for this. The children will delight in attaching the pictures to the ornaments, or even making symbolic paper ornaments to hang on the tree.
Lee originally wrote this piece after Christmas, however, we felt it was just right as a lead up to the big event. This column was initially published in the Kings County Record January 12, 1993.
Christmas, at least the commercial one, is over and gone and the stores are gearing up for the next major festival: Valentine’s Day. Last night being Twelfth Night, the end of the traditional twelve days of Christmas, we took the tree down and put away the ornaments, the strings of lights, the candleholders and the Stedman's angel I bought several years ago and get teased about, who graces (I think) the very top of the tree.
Truth to tell, I always have a hard time taking down the tree. Something in me rebels against the dismantling of this gentle symbol of peace and hope. I know the time has come to take the tree down. That does not make the process any less of a hurdle, though.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.