Tag Archives: Christmas tree

Oh Christmas tree

For many people the world over there will be a new addition to their homes in the coming days and weeks, if that addition has not already arrived.

As homes are decorated for the season a large number of families will haul an evergreen tree inside, continuing the tradition of the Christmas tree. But what is the origin and meaning of this grand holiday tradition?

There are many people who will try to tell you that the tree goes all the way back to early pagan cultures, or to the ancient Druids, or to the Roman seasonal celebration known as Saturnalia.

But in actuality the Christmas tree dates back to the early years of the 8th century and the life mission of a man born as Winfred in the year 672, but who has become known in history as Saint Boniface.

Winfred was born into a wealthy family, and had to overcome the protestations of his family when he received a calling and entered the Benedictine monastery in late 7th century England.

In 802, he became an ordained priest and took the name Boniface, becoming a teacher. Years later, and after previous attempts, he undertook a mission to convert the people of Frisia, an early Germanic tribe that lived along the North Sea.

The Frisians had an ancient symbol known as Thor’s Oak which was dedicated to a pagan god. The location of this tree was the main point of veneration for the early Germanic people.

In the year 723, Boniface approached this tree and stated his intention to chop it down, an attempt which the tribes believed would cause his death at Thor’s hands.

Boniface began to chop at the tree, calling on Thor to strike him down if the tree actually held any power or symbolism. As Boniface chopped a great wind came along and helped topple the massive tree. When the tree fell and no harm came to Boniface, the Germanic people began to believe him and thus began their conversion to Christianity.

There was a fir tree growing in the roots of the former oak, and legend has it that Boniface claimed this as a new symbol saying:

This humble tree’s wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the centre of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your Comfort and Guide.”

Subsequently the earliest actual references to a specific seasonal tree trace their roots to the Germanic people. Church records from the year 1539 at the Cathedral of Strasbourg mention the erection of a Christmas tree.

Also during this time many guilds, or union houses, maintained a custom of preparing Christmas trees in front of their guild houses by decorating them with apples, dates, nuts, and paper flowers.

After hundreds of years as a custom in the Germanic towns, the Christmas tree slowly began to spread as a tradition into the more rural areas, ultimately moving into the aristocracy and spreading east into Russia, Austria, and into France by the mid-19th century. The British royal family also began to help celebrate the holiday season with a Christmas tree during this 19th century period.

During the 1850’s, a popular ladies journal in America known as ‘Godeys Ladies Book’ published a picture of a family gathered around a Christmas tree with presents laid underneath.

By the end of the decade the picture and its popularity had caused the tradition to begin and spread in the United States. By the 1870’s, putting up a Christmas tree had become the norm here in America.

In its original tradition, the Christmas tree was brought into the home and setup with decorations on Christmas Eve, not to be taken down until after the traditional ’12th day’ on January 6th, which was the eve of the Epiphany, the day celebrating the ‘Magi’ or ‘Three Wise Men’ adoring the Christ child. It was the commercialization of the Christmas season that resulted ultimately in trees being erected at earlier points.

In celebrating the final Christmas of his life in 2004, Pope John Paul II spoke of the true meaning and purpose of the Christmas tree calling it “an ancient custom that exalts the value of life.” He pointed out that the evergreen remains unchanged throughout the harshness of winter, and further stated that it represents “the tree of life, a figure of Christ, God’s greatest gift to all men.”

In past years it had become a tradition in our own family that my family would get together with my brother Mike’s family and a few others. We would travel to the area around New Hope, Pennsylvania to a tree farm where we would select and cut down the tree for our respective families. We would then stop for a nice lunch or dinner on the ride home. We abandoned this long ride and tradition when our kids got older, but it remains a nice shared Christmas memory for our family.

My wife and I took part in this now wide-spread tradition in the way that has become customary in our home when we took a drive out yesterday and went to find our home Christmas tree.

After making our selection with one of the many tree sales locations that spring up this time of year, we brought our tree home. We will put it up in it’s stand today in our living room, let it ‘settle’ for a day, and then begin to decorate it tomorrow night.

As we decorate we will play Christmas music, enveloping our living room in the Christmas season. And as we do so we will look on the beauty of its lights and decorations and ornaments and we will be reminded of the light and joy that was brought into our world with the birth of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago.

As you put up and admire your own Christmas tree this season, remember to consider that light of Christ, the true meaning of the tree and of Christmas itself.

Decking the halls

It’s that time of year again. Time to transform the Veasey Ranch from the fall decor to the Christmas decorations. This is not an easy transformation, and it is most definitely not a one day project.

First step is the putting away of the fall stuff. Various candles, artificial flowers, window displays, yard displays, nick-knacks, and more need to be gathered up, packed up, and put away.

Next comes the cleanup. A little dusting, wiping, window cleaning and, worst of all, gutter cleaning. Yuck. I have not moved into the 21st century as yet. The Veasey Ranch has not advanced to those ‘protected’ or ‘covered’ type gutters. Ours are still exposed, and we are surrounded on all sides by massive trees that dump innumerable leaves onto the yard and into the gutters.

Step one in this particular project is to get the right weather day. I will not do this on a wet, rainy day or on a day that is too cold. I am either a wimp, or a procrastinator looking for an excuse, or both. Unfortunately, today is a nearly perfect weather day, so step one is complete.

Second step involved walking across the street and borrowing my neighbor Nick Zecca’s huge ladder. He has one of those enormous extension things that is a bear to maneuver, but that enables me to safely reach the gutters at their highest points. So I trek across and bum the ladder.

And now the fun part, alighting the ladder and getting my hands dirty, pulling all those leaves and muck out of the gutters. It takes about ten moves of the ladder all around the house, and so twice that many trips up and down, over a period of about an hour or so.

Once the gutters are cleaned out, there comes the blowing of the leaves. The old leaf blower comes out, the leaves get blown into manageable piles, and then the concrete walks and patio get a little hosing down for their own cleanup.

Finally, fall has been shoved aside and tucked away, and the actual putting up of the Christmas decorations can begin in earnest. We have our traditional display of bright white ‘icicle’ lights that string across the top of the front of the house.

This requires yet another climbing of Nick’s giant ladder, this time actually moving on to the roof of the house. It is my semi-annual trip to the highest points of my house, the second coming when I take down these lights in early January.

This year will require a prior step: purchasing new lights. We noticed last year that the old ones were getting, well, old. Strings were not lighting, or were flickering. Time to put out a little cash for some newbies. The lights will be strung across the roof, and then the lawn comes.

We have a couple of deer and a Christmas tree that match the white lights, but the tree may need replacing this year as well. A couple of Christmas bears add a splash of lighted color thanks to a red candy cane they hold.

Of course all of this is linked by a number of extension chords that I have to sort out each year. No matter how well I put this stuff away, it always seems that there is a lot of sorting and untangling to be done every year.

All that is just to get the outside done, so now the operation moves to the inside. Debbie usually does the front window while this outside operation is happening, so now comes the breaking out of the various boxes and large plastic storage bins. These contain the inside decorations: candles, nick-knacks, flowers, manger scene, tree ornaments, lights, and much more that will be spread throughout the house to give the inside that seasonal feel.

The whole thing has been done in a day before, starting early and working until night. Usually it is a two day operation.

But the finale has still not arrived. That comes with the arrival of the Christmas Tree, which will probably be next weekend. Once we decide where to get the tree, go get it, transport it home, and put it up, then comes the actual placing of the lights, ornaments, garland, and tree top. This is usually an evening operation.

Finally, the house is pretty much done. I say pretty much because there is ongoing decoration at the Veasey Ranch. We always display any Christmas cards that we receive from family and friends in a little display that surrounds our kitchen entry and breakfast bar area. Cards are added all season as they arrive, and that has already begun.

Yup, it’s not even December yet, Thanksgiving was just two days ago, and yet we already have received two Christmas cards. In fact, a couple of our neighbors already have their lawns and windows decorated, having gotten out there on Black Friday.

The good thing about all this decorating is that it is for a ‘season’, and not just for one day, so once everything is up it stays up for a month. We won’t be undecorating the Veasey Ranch until the first weekend after New Year’s Day, so we get to enjoy it for awhile.

Ah well, I guess that I have spread out this description of the process of decking the halls here at the Ranch long enough. Time to actually get to work. Ho ho ho. Mistletoe. Christmas cards. Lights and trees. Clark Griswald and Ralphie Parker. Wreaths and bows. Frosty and Rudolph and Scrooge. Presents and egg nog. Reindeer and Santa. Wise men and Jesus’ birth.

Christmastime is here. Deck the halls!

The Gift

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It’s Christmastime once again. More specifically it is the final weekend before Christmas Day itself. This certainly means that over the next two days there will be a mad rush by many folks to complete shopping for their gift lists.

That perfume or pajamas for your wife, a book for your pop, a couple of gift cards for aunts and uncles, one more toy for the kids. For many (from what I hear) it will be one final attempt at picking up a “Wii” gaming system.

For the next two days it will most certainly seem in many respects as if it is, as Andy Williams famously sang, “the most wonderful time of the year.” There will be house parties among friends, relatives, and neighbors, Christmas carols will be heard from homes and cars, home light displays will be sparkling for longer hours.

For many it will be a weekend of anxiety. Worrying that you simply must complete your shopping. Worrying that you won’t have enough money to buy all the presents that you want. Worrying about the limits on your credit cards, and the balances in your bank accounts.

Whether you are reading this as the weekend begins, and I can help you right now, or sometime later when you can take this to heart for next year, stay with me a minute and let me try to help you out. Let me try to calm you down, straighten you out, ease your anxiety, and vastly improve your Christmas enjoyment.

Are you ready?

Stop buying everyone gifts.
Stop trying to be all things to all people. Stop breaking the bank, running up your credit card balances. Stop taking money from your family’s bills and food tables because you feel that you need to go overboard on Christmas gift spending.

Trim the tree? How about we trim that gift-giving list down a bit?

Now, some folks are keen on saying that Christmas has become too commercialized. You know, I have been hearing that for so many decades now that it has lost all of it’s effectiveness as an argument. The fact is that gift-giving has been associated with the holiday ever since the very first one.

The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of how the Magi, three kings from the Orient, followed a star which led them to the little town of Bethlehem. There they found the newborn Jesus:

“They saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. They they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

The commercialization of Christmas is linked to all kinds of other alleged evils: consumerism, greed, jealousy, the all-consuming fundamental of the American dream to “keep up with the Jones’s.”

Frankly, I think that all this concern over the commercialization of Christmas is just so much “humbug!”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying your wife a new car for Christmas. There is nothing wrong with buying your husband a season ticket package to the Phillies games for Christmas.

There is nothing wrong with buying your kids a Wii system and a bunch of games to go with it. There is nothing wrong with buying a present for every relative on some massive gift list.

To that end, there is also nothing wrong with advertisers trying to sell their wares. That is what capitalism is based upon, the market economy. Capitalism is not an evil, it is the tremendous engine that has given rise to America’s greatness. I would even dare to say that capitalism itself is a gift, from our nation’s historical roots to today’s society.

The problem is not in the lights, the packages and bows, the parties and presents. The problem is within ourselves. There is a large segment of our people, and in fact people around the world, who are so quick to blame other people for their own problems. To go back to my advice: stop.

Stop buying everyone gifts. Trim that list down, both in the number of people on it to begin with, and then in the number of gifts you give as well. I suggest strongly that you only give gifts to your immediate family: children, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, spouses. One rule of thumb: if they live in your home, give them at least one gift.

One easy way to take care of everyone else is the traditional Christmas card. There are many options out there today, with boxed cards available on every level from the inexpensive to the lavish. Go with your economic situation, and every year go out and pickup a few dozen Christmas cards to send out.

A card can display your own reflection of the season. Are you more secular? Then send a general holiday card. More religious? Then send a religious-themed card. To really make your card a gift, for each one take the time to write a short note on the inside flap that is appropriate to the receiver. The cost of the card itself and the stamp to mail can usually be kept to about one dollar each. That is a pretty affordable gift.

For the folks who remain on your shopping list, narrow things down. Besides your kids and spouses, keep everyone to just one gift. These are the people closest to you in the world. You should know their likes and dislikes. Pick them up something they will really enjoy receiving.

As for the kids, make those Christmas memories special. Let them wake up to a lighted tree on Christmas morning,with wrapped gifts strewn beneath it. That’s important too, taking the time to wrap them. They key is to stay reasonably within your family’s means, and to spread gifts around evenly among multiple kids.

For your spouse there is one simple rule: make sure that whatever you do for them, large or small, that your gift or gifts reflects your appreciation for everything they are to you, for everything they do for your family.

It is a great idea for spouses to actually sit down and talk about Christmas as it approaches, and to get a plan together where perhaps limits are kept on their gifts to one another to allow more assets to reach the overall holiday experience.

The most important aspect of material gift-giving is that it must bring joy to the season. You are not bringing joy into the season for your family when you are spending money that you do not have.

Don’t give gifts beyond your means. Don’t put your family into debt that takes months to pay your way out of, year after year.

And there is another important thing to consider. Gifts do not need to actually cost you money out of your pocket.

There are three things that you can consider giving of yourself that usually won’t require a hit on your credit card. These are gifts of your time, your talent, and the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Give your time. Volunteer with a social services group that feeds the homeless. Join your church choir or volunteer to help in some other way with their preparation for the holidays. Go to the home of a relative who may be ill or who perhaps doesn’t have many close contacts, and help them out for a day, letting them know that they still have family, and that someone still cares about them.

Give your talent. Every one of us has something that we can do that is special and particular to us. If you have a professional skill, donate your skills to help an individual or group that could use them. Find a niche where you can utilize them each season as a regular gift that you give to your family and community. Draw cards for a senior citizen home, or go Christmas caroling. Everyone has talent to give.

Forgive and reconcile. I recently saw an episode of the “Dr. Phil” television show where the good doctor was trying to see if there was any way that he could help mediate a family where grown adults could not set their differences aside and simply enjoy one another’s company. In particular, in sharing the holidays together with their elderly father.

Dr. Phil’s advice in the end was to not try to force something at the holidays that was not there all year long. He said that the holidays were not the time to try to fix the problem.

I disagree with him. I think that the Christmas holiday is the exactly perfect time to forgive anyone, to set aside differences, and to celebrate those things we have in common, even if those things are few and as simple as blood relations.

My wife, Debbie Veasey and I were sitting around the television in the last few nights, and she turned to me and asked “Wouldn’t it be nice if we never had all of this to think about at Christmas? If people didn’t think about shopping and decorating, but just put their time and thoughts into celebrating the birth of Jesus?

She was dead-on straight in that assessment. It would be nice of more of the emphasis to the season were on “the reason”: the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The celebration of the sacrifices made by our Virgin Mother, her sainted husband Joseph, and of God Himself in becoming man. But that choice is up to each of us, individually and as a family.

Buying gifts isn’t the evil. Commercialization isn’t the evil. The evil comes in bad choices by individuals, families, and communities.

Enjoy the holidays, and giving gifts when you can, within your means. But never forget the greatest gift of all, the gift that God game of Himself to all mankind. And then give of yourself when you can.

Merry Christmas to all, and may God bless you and yours this holiday season and in the new year to come.