The Christmas Tree

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
How faithful are thy branches.
Green not alone in summertime
But in the winter’s frost and rime.
(Ernst Anshutz)

The critics will say the Christmas Tree is a 19th century invention, brought from his native country to England by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. Whatever the view, the Christmas Tree has become the focus of celebration and happiness as families gather around it to open presents and perhaps even sing carols. As usual, the wonderful 20th century poet T.S. Eliot has something beautiful to say about the most traditional things. Here is what he says about the Christmas Tree:


There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid,the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish –which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star; and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.

The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the Feast as an event not accepted as a pretext;
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first remembered Christmas Tree,
So that the surprised,delight in new possessions
(Each one with its peculiar and exciting smell),
The expectation of goose or turkey.

And the expected awe on its appearance
So that reverence and gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation,the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with a self conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to children
(And here I remember also with gratitude
St. Lucy, her carol, and her crown of fire):
So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By ‘eightieth’ meaning whichever is the last)
The accumulated  memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear,as on the occasion
When fear comes upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the last coming.

“The accumulated memories of annual emotion”. Each one of us will have our own accumulated  memories of the year that has passed, not least the horrors and atrocities of terrorist attacks in the streets of some of our cities. The horrors of civil wars in the Middle and the mass displacement of the Rohingya people from Burma to Bangladesh must cause the national and international community to search its heart. “The dividing line between good and evil runs through the heart of every human being”. Whilst we depend on our politicians to seek solutions to problems on the macro level, it is for each person on the micro level  to “make peace on earth” in the words and actions of our own lives. The efforts made by church congregations, as well as other communities, to “…bind up hearts that are broken” in our own midst is one of the most profound of all the messages we hear this Christmas.

+George Stack

Archbishop of Cardiff

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