Thursday, 26 December 2013

What Trees Have to Do With Christmas

The other day I read something Neil Gaiman wrote about Christmas trees being a pagan relic. I was aware of why bunnies and eggs were associated with Easter, but I haven’t thought about the connection between trees and Christmas. I decided to look into it. Here I am offering some of what I could find as well as my own input based on symbolism.

Christmas more or less coincides with the winter solstice and the beginning of the New Year. The winter solstice is the darkest day in the year and signifies the beginning of a new cycle. It is also the beginning of winter, the time of withdrawal for reflection. This can be seen in nature when some animals hibernate and trees lose their leaves. The winter solstice can be seen as a time when a seed is planted. It will remain underground for some time, drawing on the nourishment of the earth while it is called upwards by the growing light.

Apparently Christmas trees have their origin in the tradition of bringing evergreen trees into the home to celebrate eternal life and ward off darkness. Interestingly, the message of Christ is also about conquering darkness through eternal life.

There are more symbolic parallels between Christ and trees. The molecular structure of chlorophyll represents a cross. Chlorophyll is an important component of photosynthesis, the process by which light is absorbed and stored as energy. Christ is the Son of God coming to earth; the light taking physical form to experience what it is to be human. On another level, the structure of a haemoglobin molecule looks like the structure of a chlorophyll molecule. Their colours green and red are the exact opposite in the colour spectrum, suggesting another interesting relationship between humans and trees. The blood of Christ is also a symbolic part of religious rituals. Both trees and Christ represent light captured in matter.

The Solar Cross. Thanks to the artist Melissa Saayman Krige for giving me permission to use the image. For more information go to www.africantreeessences.co.za
Trees transform carbon monoxide into oxygen, thereby giving life to humans. Christ as a healer was the giver of life, transforming illness into health. These processes signify alchemy, the process by which lead (darkness) is transformed into gold (light).

Let’s consider what else trees tell us about transformation in the way they interact with the sun and the cycles in nature. Those trees that are not evergreen lose their leaves in winter. Their essence is withdrawn while they wait for a new cycle to form new leaves. The tree continues to grow through all the cycles of transformation. This reminds of the serpent that sheds its skin when it is outgrown, again linking to alchemy. The cycle of death and rebirth continues, reminding us that our essence is spirit. The outer shell is transitory.

I stumbled across this logo of the Church of Scotland and thought that it beautifully captures the essence of spirit and matter. It shows that all things burn with the sacred flame, regardless of their physical form. We are all brothers and sisters. The Christ consciousness is about recognising that and treating each other with love. As a child I remember mistaking the Afrikaans word for Christmas (kersfees - festival of candles) for "kers-wees" (being a candle). That is more or less the message of Christmas in a nutshell.

Image from Wikipedia

I would like to conclude with an experience I had a few weeks ago when I went to the local shop to buy milk. The store owner started talking to me about living in Scotland and his origins in India. He asked me about my religious orientation. I started with, “I was raised Christian, but...” He interrupted me there, saying that he was Muslim but there is only one God. All religions are the same because there is only one God. How nice to have a chat with a brother from a different background.

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to Melissa Saayman Krige at Platbos Forest for teaching me about the connection between the chlorophyll and haemoglobin molecular structure and giving me the opportunity to learn from the trees. For more information go to www.platbos.co.za and www.africantreeessences.co.za. With special thanks to the Cherry Wood tree for teaching me directly about the connection with Christ consciousness.