“Come see my tree,” said my friend Cora Florencio and that made me smile. To me, once the Christmas tree is up, the most beautiful and well-revered season is definitely upon us. My mother would play Christmas carols and sweet lullabies that were both soft and calming. She’d gather us around the console radio and relate the first-ever hotel overbooking that resulted in no vacancy for Joseph and Mother Mary. My sisters took turns in hanging tree ornaments with new ones that they added every year. My Lola would stock up our pantry with native desserts and home-brewed refreshments as reminders that the body as well as the spirit must be well nourished. Christmas was the only time in the year when children were allowed to stay up late. Sometimes, my sisters even took me to the early dawn mass (Simbang Gabi) that made me feel really grown up. I wonder whether the fact that I was the resident, always-on-call chaperon limited any alternative choices opened to them? These images brought home the message that we can practice the virtues of faith, hope, charity and love in small and simple ways. My top favorite remains the Christmas tree because I can see, touch, and smell it. If I sit under its leafy canopy, I end up climbing it, to the highest branch, to see what was over the fence and over the horizon. (In decorating the Christmas tree, follow one rule of thumb: Use ornaments that you have collected through the years. From Russian matryoshkas or nesting dolls to Spanish fans and native anahaw fans, Danish blue and white Christmas plates, piglets in ballet tutus and pointe shoes, butterflies, happy faces, miniature perfume bottles, silk flowers, sachets stuffed with lavender seeds, cinnamon sticks, dried orange rinds, Venetian masks, garden tools, photo frames, miniature books, baking tools or kitchen magnets, even pieces of jewelry and fun watches). For my first grandson, a nursery theme of Noah’s ark and the parade of animals in twos. What about a musical theme with miniature notes and instruments including the colorful jackets of music CDs? Indulge your hobby too by using that as a theme. For my son, that would be automobiles while daughter would go for the constellation, the moon and stars. The ideas are as endless as your imagination).
Our parents and elders spent time to pass on the traditional symbols of Christmas so why not make room to embrace the wonder and beauty of what they each represent?
The tree. If you’re lucky to find a fully-grown fresh pine tree – like in cool and picturesque Baguio of yore – the green color represents the everlasting hope of mankind. The needles pointing upward symbolize man’s thoughts turning toward heaven.
The star is the celestial sign of promises made long ago, the shining hope of mankind. It is a time to rejoice and to celebrate the birthday of a precious baby. When he grows up, he will fulfill his mission that will cost him his dear life in ransom for ours.
The wreath is the eternal nature of love, never ceasing, forming one continuous circle and having no end, like the round wedding band that signifies the precious covenant between husband and wife.
The candy cane represents the shepherd’s crook or staff used to bring lost sheep back to the fold. That no matter where you stand, whether as a simple folk or a scion, each one has a place in the grand plan of the Maker.
The gifts are symbolic of the gold, myrrh, and frankincense that three wise men brought to the Christ child. In gift-giving, remember that there is a part of you that you wrap with the item, in praise of friendship and brotherly love.
The bells ringing out are to guide lost sheep back to their fold. A fitting reminder that Jesus will look for any lost sheep and that each of us is so precious to him that he will never leave anyone in a lurch.
The satin bow is used to tie the gift to symbolize the intimacy of being tied together in bonds of goodwill and kinship.
These symbols are not limited to the Christmas season. In summer, during the wet season or if you live abroad where there is winter, spring and autumn, the flowers gathered in a bouquet would remind us of the giving nature of true love.
The sound of distant bells, or the wind chime hanging in your garden trellis, can resonate and make tingling sounds to lead you back to the right path.
Lastly, the star, in any season and wherever you are, can light and guide us safely back to our hearth and home.
If you are still searching for the heart of the season, just remember that without Christ, there is no Christmas. May you don a generous spirit and like a child, fill yourself with wonder and awe. Tell me again, Who alone can make a tree?