O Crucified Tree, O Crucified Tree

What with it being The Office and War on Christmas week here at The League, I thought I would respond to Jamelle’s post on the CHRIST-mas tree (which you should definitely check out).

Now if only I could somehow work in a brilliant piece on how The Office is part of the nefarious War on Christmas–or is “Yuletide Contingency Operations?”–I would take the proverbial holiday cake.  Alas not.

But I find this excerpt from Jamelle’s post (hauntingly) intriguing.

Boss Creations, a new holiday decor company, has introduced the new “CHRIST-mas” Tree, featuring the unique trait of a trunk in the shape of a wooden cross.

Jamelle correctly points out the indigenous European agriculture religious roots of Christmas.  The word pagan comes from the Latin pagani meaning a “country dweller” (or perhaps country bumpkin).   Christianity was in its earlier years a largely urban movement—St. Paul wrote epistles to whole cities, for example.  Only with the (much later) de-urbanization of the Roman Empire after its fall and the consequent Christianization of the European countryside did it have to come to terms with agricultural-based/fertility rites of passage.  Though to be fair, the great Jewish festivals of Sukkoth, Shauvot, and Passover are all themselves agriculturally based as well, so the tradition of agricultural cycles cum religious festivals is native to the Christian tradition through its foundation in Judaism.

So on one level, Jamelle is certainly right that this Cross Christmas Tree idea is pretty patently stupid.  The Christmas Tree is in many regards a pre-Christian (or even non-Christian ) image, so putting the “Christ” back in the “Christmas Tree” only shows the ludicrous nature of such a quixotic quest.  (cf. The dictionary definition of irony)

Though on another other level, this might be the theological equivalent of a double-turnover touchdown, i.e. there might be something going on here (though not in the way intended it by the purveyors of the “CHRIST-mas” Tree).

Now there’s certainly a longstanding Christian mythic tradition of imagining the wood of the Cross on which Jesus was executed as being from (or the same as) the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in The Garden of Eden.  Jesus is said to take on sin in his death and sin arises (according to the story) through the eating of the apple from the tree, hence his death occurs on the same tree.  The Cross is therefore also (paradoxically) The Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden, as through the Crucified Wood, the Resurrection occurs.

Now that Christian Easter* tradition has parallels (roots?) in the Norse mythology of Odin crucified on the Cosmic Tree Yggdrasil.  Odin later comes back from the dead–you may have guessed that was coming.

The Trees in the Garden of Eden certainly are cast mythically as World-Cosmic Trees.  The ancient medieval maps that show Jerusalem as the center of the universe and the site of the Crucifixion as the Center of Jerusalem–thereby locating it as the navel of the Universe–by extension are therefore equating Jerusalem to Eden. Or a New Eden anyway, as Christ is typified in the New Testament as the New Adam.

As the Christmas Tree has its (pun not intended) roots in the Cosmic Tree mythology, I hadn’t considered before reading that sentence from Jamelle’s post (and the strange “gift” being marketed/produced from the jolly holiday season) whether the Christmas Tree, in Christian tradition, would be considered a type of Cross.

But behold the Angels of Wikipedia announce unto me:

Other [churches] use the same stripped Christmas tree as a Christian cross at Easter.

In the medieval poem The Dream of the Rood (Rood, meaning Rod or Cross), the Cross is festooned (post-resurrection) with jewels and lights.   There is also a tradition in Renaissance painting of the Christ-child holding a miniature Crucifixion.

Meister Eckhart, the famed (and controversial) German theologian, described God as from All Eternity laying on a bed wailing in labor, giving birth to a redeemed and sanctified universe.  And the Incarnation itself is described by the ancient Church Fathers in language similar (if not almost identical) to the Cross.  The Incarnation of the Christ (as the second member of the Trinity) is taken to be an “abasement” or a “humiliation”, a “condescension” to the human condition.  A horror–in the ancient sense of both awe-inspiring and fear-inducing–to be behold.

In other words, The Incarnation itself is a form of Death and Resurrection, with The Word of God (The Logos Christ) leaving the Godly condition to accept the reality of space-time limitations in a body and thereby “rising” to life in birth.**

Following this line, the Christmas Tree, is therefore a representation of The Cross.  Weirdly, our friends got it right in a way, though for the wrong reasons. In other words, it’s too bad our makers of The CHRIST-mas Tree couldn’t see this connection instead of focusing on some politicized, made-up, hyperventilating rightwing radio-inspired nonsense.

* English is really unhelpful here.  The name of the Feast, in terms of Christianity, should not be Easter.  In Spanish the term is Pascua referring to the Pascal Mystery of Life, Death, Burial, and Resurrection.

**Given this, it’s a good thing that Mary (so far as we know) didn’t keep the placenta or undoubtedly there would be some devotion to the After-birth of Christ.

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16 thoughts on “O Crucified Tree, O Crucified Tree

  1. When will the War on Yule end? It’s time to start boycotting retail establishments that don’t instruct their employees to wish you a happy aðfangadagskvöld.

    jolly holiday season

    The word ‘jolly’ comes from the same Germanic root as ‘Yule’. You see how the serpent is subtle.

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  2. For three years now, Margaret Downey’s “Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia (FSGP)” has set up the “Tree of Knowledge” alongside other holiday displays in the “Free Speech Zone” outside the Chester County Courthouse in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It is decorated with laminated book covers selected by FSGP, one of which is the Bible, and is a symbol of humanist values. FSGP thinks faith necessarily conflicts with reason, due to a common misinterpretation of the symbology of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil referred to in Genesis. FSGP’s “Tree of Knowledge” is based on a straw man, because the tree in Genesis is not ‘against’ knowledge itself. Check out mywebsite to read more about it.

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  3. Should Christmas trees be conifers? They stay green. Deciduous trees lose their leaves, die in the autumn and are reborn in the spring like The Green Man. (At least he doesn’t go estrous around Easter, which is where we get the English name for the holiday.) You’d imagine that Christians would have chosen an oak, but northern Europe had a long history of conifer worship, and Christianity has always been syncretic, adopting local customs, saints and festivals. Christian missionaries clearly decided that converting Germany and Scandinavia was worth appeasing the tree huggers.

    You find stuff all over Europe like this. For example, mistletoe can only be used at York cathedral, but no other English churches, most likely in response to a pre-Christian custom involving mistletoe in worship. Try listening to The Holly and The Ivy and tell me you can’t hear the awkward grafting of Christian imagery to a much older song. That carol is almost Taoist.

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  4. Christian missionaries clearly decided that converting Germany and Scandinavia was worth appeasing the tree huggers.

    Can you point anyone to a piece of scholarly literature that cites a primary source to that effect? (And if not, what is so clear about it?)

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