ENVIRONMENTAL awareness was probably the reason Yuletide season celebrants were prevented from using real Pine Trees as Christmas trees. In many Christian areas, they now prefer Christmas trees made of plastic. Maybe many of them are “plastic” too.
But it makes no difference whether the tree is real or made of plastic, what is important is that the trees are set up to celebrate Christmas according to one’s wishes. Even US President Theodore Roosevelt banned the use of a real Christmas Pine Tree at the White House for environmental reasons.
Christmas trees in 15th-century Germany were traditionally decorated with apples, nuts and foods, and lighted with candles. When Thomas Edison discovered electricity, the candles were replaced with bulbs that made the Christmas trees glow for days and nights.
Before Christmas trees, the Chinese, Hebrews and Egyptians used evergreen trees and wreaths to symbolize eternal life. The Vikings and the pagans in Europe also practiced “tree worship.” After their conversion to Christianity, they still decked their houses with evergreens to scare away the devil, witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.
I remember my father had his own way with Christmas trees. A few days before December, he has already prepared rocks and soil in a big can. By then, he had looked around for a good size of a live Pine Tree from a group of Pine seedlings.
My playmates at New Lucban would then get together to help dig out a young three-foot-high Pine Tree growing on my grandmother’s hill that we transplant in the tin can that papa prepared. A star is placed on the tree to represent the Star of Bethlehem, and a ceramic angel to characterize Angel Gabriel.
Every morning, my father waters the tree before he leaves for work. That became our Christmas tree for the rest of the holidays until after New Year. On any morning after that, we would surprisingly find the Pine Tree replanted on the same spot where it was dug out.
We know that my father did the replanting. Replanting Christmas Pine Trees was fun until the tradition stopped when the law prevented people from cutting trees for environmental reasons. That was also the time in Baguio or in the mountain provinces when the use of Pine Trees as Christmas trees was restricted.
That December routine went on for many years until real Pine Trees were replaced with plastic trees. I knew that houses had Christmas trees every December and I remember that more than three of the replanted trees grew tall until these were indiscriminately cut down by squatters in 1987.
In high school, the tree that I decorated was that of a coffee plant I found in the garden. Years later, we had a Christmas tree cut from a big branch of a wild Guava tree that grew on the hill above the house.
There was really no need to sacrifice a young Pine Tree. A Christmas tree does not have to be big but it is better that it is a living tree that has roots and appears to be full of energy so that it can be replanted after it has served its purpose.
Whatever, the Christmas tree is also a “tree of paradise” similar to what is commonly imagined as Eden. The tree is decorated with apples to represent the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve shared together.
But many 19th-century Americans were weirdos because they thought of Christmas trees as symbols of weakness when German settlers in Pennsylvania first displayed a Christmas tree in public view. These were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.
Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, was believed to have been the first to add lighted candles to a Christmas tree. Accordingly, he erected a tree in the main room and tied lighted candles to its branches.
In the middle of the cheerful Christmas atmosphere, there are people who do not have Christmas trees. I have seen children who do not have the same privileges. I saw them peeping through the fences of neighbors partying in the garden, dreaming that someday they will also have enough food on their table.
These days, a good number of celebrants worldwide have to be reminded that the season is a celebration of the birth of Jesus in a manger, so that parties, food and gifts are secondary.
This scenario has been implanted erroneously in societies all over since the start of Christianity. While there is the practice that tells many that Christmas time is gift-giving time, I believe otherwise. In the first place, that should not have been because Christmas should not be leveled with the love for material things.
I may be sounding like a misbehaving “born-again” preacher but I believe that the decent ministers have to correct misimpressions of what Christmas is all about and how the birth of Christ is celebrated.
It is disturbing enough when celebrities on TV talk shows crow about their new shiny gifts when there are countries in crisis due to natural and manmade calamities. Those gifts sometimes make me feel reduced. And the poor who watch these talk shows become even poorer.
By the way, COVID-19 could be more transferable during family occasions. What comes next is the pain of seeing family members getting infected. It is certainly more heartbreaking when a member of the family is lost because of partying – minus the health protocols.
The appeal is not intended to suppress the celebration, but a reminder that adjustments and sacrifices are necessary when enjoying the Yuletide season so that our loved ones would still be around for a party next year. Be careful.
The season brings back both the good and bad memories too. Good for those who recall the happiness that the season brings, and bad because we also remember our dear ones who are no longer around to celebrate with us.
To make peace with myself, I always recall a Christmas SMS sent to me years ago. It said: There are many reasons why some good things do not last. But there is only one explanation for it – “The best is yet to come.” The message gives us hope, especially at these trying times.
Happy anniversary Baguio Chronicle! Merry Christmas!