Sunday, November 29, 2009

To Tree, Or Not To Tree

To tree, or not to tree? That is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the den to suffer the needles of outrageous ornamentation, or to leave trees outside (where they grow), and by opposing end them (indoors). The conscience, which makes cowards of us all, has caused me to sickly o’er with this pale cast of thought: Why have I allowed a Christmas tree to dominate my living room, yet again?

I love Christmas. I love Christmas music. I love Christmas decorations. Do I love Christmas trees? I wonder.

Beside me stands a monstrous, decorated intrusion into the order of my life. As tradition dictates in the Sleadd home, the furniture gets rearranged from Thanksgiving weekend until New Year’s Day to accommodate a coniferous guest. Thus, the measured juxtaposition of my arm chair, book stand, and reading lamp has been set awry by the merry boughs of imposition.

I grow contemplative and cautious. If I make room for a tree in my house and den, will I next make room for blatant idolatry in my life and habits? And what’s a Christmas tree got to do with the birth of Christ anyway? I don’t recall the gospel of Luke mentioning an evergreen tree stuffed into the stable in Bethlehem to crowd out the cattle.

I’ve heard stories about Martin Luther finding deep symbolism in a spruce tree he saw one night when he was feeling spiritually frisky. But I suspect that some German tree farmer found a way to sell more trees if he added holiday appeal, like a printer proclaiming a special day for the purpose of selling more greeting cards. It seems dryly ironic to claim an evergreen tree represents eternal life in Christ, then to chop it down and set it in one’s house to whither into a parched, fire hazard.

For the record, my Christmas tree is artificial, so it probably won’t burn the house down. And it’s actually quite pleasant to look at. It is perfectly conical and uniformly green. Its wire branches are evenly distributed with factory precision, and stiff enough to hold up the heaviest ornaments China can make. Few real trees look so good, or require so little care.

But herein lies a typological quandary, which tests the native hue of resolution: What are we to make of Christmas tree symbolism when the specimen is a hypocrite, a plastic phony, a green-washed Pharisee stuck in a tree stand. Must give us pause. Maybe that’s why a rash of American governors, and the president himself, recently couldn’t decide whether to call them Christmas trees, or Holiday trees.

I've not delved into the Christmas tree's alleged pagan past, nor will I. Research the subject yourself and find enough ambiguity to also give one pause. Alas, you must decide for yourself what to do about such trees. I recommend you enjoy holiday liberty as you practice whatever is God honoring and beneficial.

Me thinks I'll let my Christmas tree remain standing in the house, as usual. Though if the Christ of Christmas has not returned by next December I'll probably have to think it all through again, to tree, or not to tree.

Have a Merry Christmas this year.