Christmas tree tradition symbolizes family’s history
By Elisabeth Smith
For the Davis family, a Christmas tree symbolizes more than just the holiday. It celebrates the history of their life together.
Ed and Carolyn Davis spent their first date 30 years ago planting a tiny blue spruce in the nursery owned by Ed’s family since he was in high school.
“We planted it on the property not knowing we were going to be living here and raising a family,” Ed says.
The couple continued cutting their trees from the nursery and decorating together through their marriage in 1999, the birth of their daughter Andrea in 2003, after they welcomed their next two children, Blake and Isabella, and until today.
And that small tree they planted 30 years ago? It’s now nearly 30 feet tall.
“Tree time is family time,” Carolyn says. “I think there is such a Christmas fulfillment in us always being together, and this tradition for our family.”
Each year, all five of the Davis family members make it a point to be home for tree cutting and decorating, filling the house with music, snacks and laughter as they place ornaments and lights together.
“I don’t know what it would be like without choosing the tree, bringing it in and decorating it,” Carolyn says. “It just wouldn’t be Christmas.”
The Davis family’s love of Christmas trees shows not only in their family room, but far beyond. Andrea, Blake and Isabella all have trees in their own rooms each year, as does every building for the nursery.
Family and friends have come over the decades to choose their own trees, and Ed says he loves “seeing the joy and fun they have” at their nursery.
Additionally, the family decorates a tree each year at Church of the Good Shepherd Parish in Kent, where they are parishioners.
“We really enjoy doing that, because (the parish) really is like a family,” Ed says.
The family plans to continue their cherished tradition, with Blake taking over for the next generation when the time comes.
And, of course, they will always be able to see that blue spruce from their first date that helped spark all of this Christmastime magic.
“For us, it symbolizes so many good memories,” Carolyn says.
The meaning behind the tree
While different families may share their own unique traditions for decorating, the Christmas tree offers a true symbolism for Catholics.
- Evergreen tree: The tradition of the Christmas tree was brought to the United States by German-speaking immigrants in the 1820s. The tree is an “evergreen” and is one of the few trees that does not die – in other words, lose its leaves – in winter. For this reason, it is a symbol of everlasting life and hope, the precious gifts from Jesus to all believers. Its needles and its narrow crest point upward, turning our thoughts to heaven. Because the tree is cut down and then erected again, it is a symbol of Christ’s resurrection.
- Lights and candles: Pope Francis explains that, “The Christmas tree with its lights reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world, the light of the soul that drives away the darkness of animosity and makes room for forgiveness.” Candles and Christmas lights also remind us that we are to be light to others, to show them the way to Christ.
- Star: The two most common Christmas tree toppers are the star and the angel. In our Christian faith, the “Christmas star” symbolizes the star of Bethlehem, which according to the Bible, guided the three kings, or wise men, to the baby Jesus. The star is also the heavenly sign of a prophecy fulfilled long ago and the shining hope for humanity.
- Angel: Some people prefer to put an angel on top of their Christmas tree, representing the role played by these messengers of God at the first Christmas. The angel Gabriel announced the birth of Christ and told St. Joseph to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt to escape Herod’s plan to kill the Christ Child. Angels also appeared to the shepherds when Christ was born, singing and praising God and instructing the shepherds to hurry to Bethlehem to see the newborn king. Additionally, angels symbolize the host of angels that heralded the birth of Jesus to the shepherds who were in the fields watching their flocks.
- Ornaments: Red ornaments symbolize God’s love and the love of Jesus, who died for us on the cross, while gold ornaments represent the kingship of Christ.
- Tinsel: These thin, metallic strands often used on Christmas trees originate from the legend of a poor, faithful family who wished to decorate a Christmas tree in honor of the Christ Child, but had no money for decorations. In the night, spiders came and spun webs across the tree. Then the Christ Child, honoring the family’s faith, turned the threads into silver.
- Gifts: The gifts beneath the tree are rich with symbolism. They represent God gifting us his only son, Jesus. Additionally, the wise men who brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to honor the infant king in Bethlehem’s manger inspired the concept of gift giving at Christmas. God also gives us the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which help us to follow His direction in our lives: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Piety, Fortitude and Fear of the Lord (Awe of God’s Greatness and Power).