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O Christmas Tree!

The science and traditions of evergreen trees.

IT’S CHRISTMAS!!! Merry Christmas everyone! To celebrate Christmas, today I wanted to take a look at one of the most Christmas-y symbols around. The evergreen tree!

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Everyone knows that these beauties are a time-honored symbol of Christmas, but I thought I would share some information about them that I found interesting.

First of all evergreens are types of plants that stay green all year round. The Christmas trees we are used to are a specific type called conifers. The basic things to know about conifers are things we can readily observe. These trees are usually in a triangle shape. They have skinny pine needles instead of big leaves. And these pines have a waxy coating that most leaves do not. These three things are also big reasons why the trees stay green all year.

In order for plants to keep their pretty green color they need to have enough sun and water so that they can perform photosynthesis. Photosynthesis provides the tree with energy. During the winter the days are shorter which means less sun, but conifers are in a triangle shape so that the top branches don’t shade the bottom branches and the tree can soak up as much sun as possible! Next, the needles of a pine tree do not have the big stomata (pores) of a regular leaf. This means that the leaves do not let as much water out through evaporation. The waxy coating on the needles also helps to keep the water trapped inside. With more sun and more retained water than their deciduous tree counterparts, the conifers are able to keep the process of photosynthesis going easy-peasy all through the winter!

As I said, the evergreen tree has been a symbol of Christmas for a long time, but it hasn’t OFFICIALLY been a symbol for all that long. Long before it was adopted into Christian culture, Pagan cultures would decorate with evergreens during winter to remind them of the new life that is coming in the spring. With Christmas being a winter holiday and the new life of Jesus coming at this time, borrowing their ideas made sense.

It wasn’t until 1982 that the Vatican officially acknowledged it and made it a custom. This is when Pope John Paul II made it a custom to house this big beautiful tree right in the middle of St. Peter’s Square. Since, as I said, this tradition was borrowed from Pagans, a number of people had reservations. Nowadays, it is an integral part of the Vatican Christmas celebrations.

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The evergreen doesn’t just symbolize our new life on EARTH with Christ in our lives, its ever-green color represents the unending life we are promised in heaven with Him too. As the tree never turns brown (except when we cut it down and put it in our homes), so too will our soul in Christ never die.

The final reason for having the pine tree as a symbol of Christmas was one I had never thought of. In a 2004 address, Pope John Paul II stated that the Christmas tree reminds Christians of the "tree of life" of Genesis 2:9, an image of Christ, the supreme gift of God to humanity.” He said that the tree is to remind us that with the birth of Jesus the tree of life has blossomed anew in the desert of humanity.”

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When I read that, I just thought that imagery was SO powerful!

“…the tree of life has blossomed anew in the desert of humanity.”

Amazing. I hope that, like me, this gives you something to think about. I hope that as you gather around the Christmas tree with loved ones and family that you will remember the greatest gift of all. Take some time to reflect on the gift of Christ and the gift of eternity with him in heaven.

Merry Christmas!