Wednesday, March 20

Goodwill tree


FIRST and foremost, I must wish those of my readers who are celebrating Christmas today – a Merry Xmas and, for good measure, by next week, a Happy New Year.

Have you got a tree in your home?

I have seen some one buying an artificial tree that looks like a local pine called Rhu Ronang (Casuarina sp – Gymnostoma nobile). Plastic trees are on sale in many super markets in several towns in Sarawak at this time of the year.

Have you ever wondered how or why a tree has come to be associated with the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ?

I have. I could not find any reliable information about that connection, so I looked up the Concise Oxford Dictionary. There it says: “Christmas tree – an evergreen (usu. spruce) or artificial tree set up with decorations at Christmas”.

Is that all? Historical connection? Religious connection?

We all know that it is a tree of some species but what has it got to do with Christmas or the birth of Christ?

For more information, I turned to Auntie Di who claims to know about many things that Google doesn’t.

She mentioned a certain German prince who had married another German, both living in England; he had a tree brought into their castle there during Christmas.

Still curious, I had to resort to Google for a second opinion. According to Google, the “first Christmas trees came to Britain sometime in 1830s” and became very popular ten years later.

Yes, “Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s German husband) had a Christmas Tree set up in Windsor Castle”.

When reporters at the “Illustrated London News” heard of it, the ILN published a drawing of “The Queen’s Christmas tree”. Was it a Spruce?

Still, there was no mention of its religious significance. However, Google adds, “Christians use it (the tree) as a sign of everlasting life with God”.

There’s some link to a general belief in the Supreme Being, at last.

Apparently, in ancient Europe both Pagans and Christians used any trees or branches of a tree, decorated with lights, to celebrate Winter Solstice, wishing for the coming of Spring.

Back to Sarawak. The tree may be a popular decoration in the house during Christmas in England at about the time the Anglican Mission came to Sarawak (1848). But the association between a tree and Christianity was unknown to the newly converted pagans at Kuching or Quop or Banting, or Stunggang.

These last three villages were the first places in Sarawak earmarked by the Society For The Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) as centres for the conversion to Christianity.

Just to digress a bit – my paternal grandfather, Jabu Anak Seman, was among the early converts to the new Faith, but my family never set up a tree in the house at Christmas. Hence my ignorance about any connection between Christianity and a tree.

I had never heard about it until I came to Kuching in the 1950s.

In 1959, Fr. Leslie Rule Wilson, priest of the St Thomas’s Cathedral in Kuching suggested that I help teach at Sunday School. But I was not told to impress on the students the significance of the Christmas tree, but on acts of Faith, Hope, Charity and Love.

My take on this tree is that the Christmas tree, despite its name, has little to do with the birth of Christ. Theologians, please kindly correct me. A thousand apologies, if proven wrong.

Whatever the verdict, do not remove the tree from you home just yet, unless it has been illegally felled from the Forest Reserve.

Therefore, I think it is not inappropriate for non-Christians to set up the so called Christmas Tree in their homes as a pretty item of decoration during any important occasion.

It’s a ‘festive tree’, call it by any other name if you like – Tree of Life (“The Tree roots more fast which has stood a rough blast” – English proverb); or, if you are suddenly being philosophical, remember “ The tree that grows slowly keeps itself for another”.

People who have electricity in their houses set up the Christmas tree (plastic or just a sapling of any tree in a jar) and have it lit up with little electric bulbs of several colours representing stars and even snowflakes.

In some homes, I have seen packets containing sweets or dolls tied to its branches; these are gifts for distribution to children on Boxing Day which is the 26th of December. Children love to help decorate the tree because they have a stake in that tree.

Tree or not tree, Christians must celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ. The plant as such is not important. What is more important is the Prayer that goes with the Yuletide.

Let’s pray for all mankind, especially thinking of and feeling for those who are poor, sick, and anyone else with a problem at all.

Special prayers for those countries having wars – caused by man! – and those suffering from natural disasters.

And if we live happy normal lives, let’s thank God, never mind His specific name, for creating the world for us.

When He first made it, life must have been simple. Now humans whom He put there are smarter by the day.

They want to play God, and judge others on the basis of their own standards, not the original values – love, charity, and justice.

They pretend to act on His behalf in matters strictly between Him and His subjects. They commit murder and mayhem, misusing His good name for their own purposes. Let us pray to God to knock some sense into their minds.

Meanwhile, let’s consider the holiday season a time for all-round good wishes, forgiveness, tolerance and joy to the world.


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