To understand Christmas Traditions, its good to know how we got to where we are. The greatest of the Christmas Traditions is the evergreen tree. The Christmas tree traces its roots to the tree of paradise that was featured in the medieval mystery (miracle) plays. A tree was adorned with fruit to represent what our first parents were forbidden to eat. The fruit has since evolved into the colorful balls that are used to decorate the modern Christmas trees.
The handmade paper chrismons that adorn some tree traditions, with their images from Sacred Scripture (a Butterfly, Cross, Noah’s ark, the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the Star of David, etc) also evoke the Tree of Jesse, the pictorial representation of the genealogy of Jesus as it is found in the Gospels according to Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38). The genealogy found in Matthew is the first part of the Gospel that is proclaimed in the Vigil Mass for Christmas.
Christmas trees are meant to be illumined after the prayer of blessing on Christmas Eve. Yes, the tree is not supposed to be lit until Christmas Eve … and stay on until we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus (6 weeks after Christmas). The lights signify Christ, “the true light, which enlightens everyone, [and] who [is] coming into the world” (Jn. 1:9). As we recognize the longest night (Winter Solstice) in our world, we know the light of the world increases. The trees “arrayed in splendor remind us of the life-giving cross of Christ” (Book of Blessings), the “tree of life and light” by which the Lord Jesus Christ “rescued us from the darkness of sin.”
Our Christmas trees then call to mind the reason why we needed a Savior (our fall from grace, no thanks to the fruit of one tree) and the manner by which He has saved us (His death on a cross that had been made from the wood of another tree). Though the world seems to be in darkness and dead, the evergreen trees naturally give color (hope) in our life. They are a fitting backdrop to the scene of our Lord’s birth, evoking not only the dark past of our sinfulness but also the dazzling future that His death and resurrection has in store.