When I was a little girl, I used to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” on network TV. It was a ritual of ours to watch because 1) we didn’t have cable, and 2) it was one of the few cartoons shown during primetime during the holidays. But I don’t think I understood the main points of Charles Shultz’ message until I watched it as a parent with Piano Man.
If you don’t know the story line or don’t remember much of it like me, then please read on. The story begins with Charlie Brown looking glum and depressed during the Christmas season. He talks with Lucy about figuring out a way to get out of the holiday slump. Lucy has a grand idea and insists that Charlie Brown direct the children’s Christmas play. He gets so excited that he jumps for joy, but when he visits the set during practice, the other kids only want to play rock music and dance the day away.
Charlie Brown cuts the music and tries to direct the kids in preparation for the play. (Oh, Charlie Brown, if only you knew the meaning of Christmas.) The kids think Charlie Brown is ruining their holiday spirits, and so they send Charlie Brown and his best bud, Linus (now you know where our younger son’s online alias names come from) on a quest to find a suitable Christmas tree.
Which brings me to Question #1: What’s all the fuss about a Christmas tree? How did an evergreen tree, such as fir, become a symbol for Christmas?
Well, according to The History Channel’s article in “History of Christmas Trees,” Germany was credited for originating the Christmas tree tradition as early as the 16th century. Several other sources cited other countries and influences dating as far back as ancient times with evergreen garlands, but those were to honor another god. Germans settlers brought their Christmas tree tradition during the early colonial days to Pennsylvania. However, some religious and political leaders, such as Lord Oliver Cromwell and William Bradford, felt that these symbols of paganism desecrated the holy meaning of Christmas. But by the late 1800s, German influence of Christmas had become so mainstream, that people left behind the Puritan views of keeping Christmas sacred.
In the Christmas Tree Archives, Countess Maria Hubert von Staufer explained that the evergreen tree held a more religious meaning dating back to the 7th century. She also stated that a monk went to Germany to preach the word of God. Using the example of a fir tree, the monk tried to relate the three corners of the fir tree to represent the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The author further explained that Christmas markets were set up in Strasbourg in 1601, where not only baked goods and souvenirs were sold but a written record of a tree decorated in wafers and paper flowers.
Last year, we visited Strasbourg’s Christmas markets after Christmas, and the place was still hustling and bustling with locals and tourists covering every inch of the square.
People warmed up to mulled cider, while chatting with friends.
Kids enjoyed a long carousel ride in frigid temperatures, and we walked among the people taking in the view.
This was a modern day decorated Christmas tree at the Christmas market in Strasbourg. (If you scroll down a little later, you’ll see a remarkable resemblance in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”)
Now that you know some of the origins of how the Christmas tree came into existence, let’s go back to complete Shultz’ story in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” When Charlie Brown and Linus get to the Christmas tree lot, the boys find only metallic pink and brightly colored Christmas trees of the artificial kind.
Charlie Brown sees a tiny evergreen tree with falling pine needles not much taller than them.
Once Charlie Brown brings back the pitiful looking tree, the other kids are so disgusted by the unsightly evergreen, they mock Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown gets so upset by the commercialization of Christmas, he asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Then Linus responds:
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day was born in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men’.” (Luke 2:10)
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Shultz couldn’t have presented the message any clearer.
Which brings me to Question #2: So why all the contention over a Christmas tree?
The Puritans struggled with this. The Germans sort of struggled with this. Today, with “over 2.1 billion Christians of all ages in the world” who celebrate Christmas (depending on how you define this number) struggle with this.
For many Christians, it’s a time to reflect on and celebrate the birth of Jesus, where he was born in the humblest of places among the animals, not among kings and other rulers. Nope, it’s a humble entry into the world for the Son of God with such a big plan. For everyone else, it’s a time to celebrate with family, a time of togetherness, and perhaps a time to reflect back on the year. Or perhaps, Christmas sounds more like this:
Recently, I overheard people talking with their friends and loved ones at the mall about whether they had finished their holiday shopping. People talk about the latest gadgets and toys of the year. You know those signs that read, “the must have toy of year.” It’s all over my email inbox. Even buildings and homes are adorned with elaborate Christmas lights. I don’t know if Martin Luther, who was known to have lit his Christmas tree with candles, ever intended for lighted candles on a Christmas tree to develop into this:
When we were abroad, Christmas was different. Family and old friends were thousands of miles away, and we were left to spend Christmas apart from them. We weren’t privy to all the latest toys and gadgets from the States. Cyprus’ Christmas decorations on the entire island were probably less than 10% of what of I’ve seen in our tiny hometown alone. We intentionally didn’t buy a plastic tree at Alphamega (a major grocery chain in Cyprus) just to get a few weeks usage out of it.
It was a return to a simple understated approach to Christmas. As much as I drooled over Pottery Barn’s bright white stockings, I didn’t need to hang them with our names embroidered in matching monogrammed letters.
Last year was the year we decided to go environmentally-friendly, eco-friendly, and handmade-friendly. I turned left over green butcher paper from Piano Man’s Halloween school decorations into a 2D Christmas tree. Using cheap $1 sticker book stickers from the Target Dollar section (which we packed in our luggage for Cyprus), I sequentially lined stickers like they were makeshift garlands around our tree. Each day, Piano Man got to make a paper ornament, which we taped to the tree as a humble decoration.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the aromatic smells of a fresh evergreen at a friend’s house. It still brings back memories from my childhood. I still ooh and ahh over my favorite DIY home décor bloggers’ Christmas decorations. But a part of me can’t help feel like going back to simpler days and a time when bigger wasn’t always better.
Yet, I struggle and feel the pull into the glow of lighted Christmas decorations in our neighborhood. It is most evident when Piano Man makes a quiet comment like this, “Ummah, I like <insert name of neighbor>’s house. I wish our house was like theirs’.” His comment made me a little sad because those fragrant evergreen trees and garlands adorned on people’s homes are a part of his childhood memory too.
So in the spirit of Christmas, wavering between handmade and store bought, and creating memories, I am trying to bring a little joy to making something from scratch, bringing it back to the humblest of moments and remembering what Christmas is about.
What is the meaning of Christmas to you?
From my hometown to yours,
P.S. My next post will be a tutorial on how to make a six-sided cardboard Christmas tree. Should be loads of fun for you and your crafty kiddos or as a project in your child’s classroom.
History of Christmas Trees by History Channel
Trees by Christmas Archives
Wikipedia’s Christmas Tree
History of Christmas Trees by Real Christmas Trees
Christmas Shopping with a Countess by BBC