I almost titled this “The Great Tree Debate”. Some people believe very strongly that a Christmas Tree should never make an early appearance while others are just as firmly sure that earlier is better. I fall in an in-between place. I have my ideal plan, and then I have a multitude of variations depending on what life throws at us in any given year.
My ideal plan is as follows: the tree goes up right after Thanksgiving, with just lights for decoration. On the first Sunday of Advent, we place all our purple (the liturgical color of Advent) ornaments on the tree. It’s so beautiful. If you don’t have purple decorations, it is a good excuse to shop! We have enough to make the tree pretty and, well, purple-y, but not enough to fully cover the tree. It is Advent, so a little starkness is appropriate.
On the third Sunday of Advent – remember, Gaudete, or Rejoice, Sunday – we full-out decorate (in an ideal year, anyway). One year we tried to wait until Christmas Eve, but that was too much. I am a church singer and cantor, so Christmas Eve is usually quite busy with rehearsals and liturgies. Decorating on Gaudete Sunday helps our family to celebrate that particular day with joy.
Of course, it rarely happens this way. For example, last year my youngest’s Nutcracker ballet performance got a super late venue slot – Dec. 21-22 – which meant that November and December were a whirlwind of rehearsals and preparation. We knew that Advent would be exceptionally busy, especially when we added all my music rehearsals and liturgies to the mix, not to mention the older boys’ school schedules, work schedules, and the college kid in Michigan arriving home. We chose to decorate everything, down the the last Christmas tree ornament, Thanksgiving weekend. We were all home and relaxed and together, so it seemed the most appropriate way to go. Not just because it was convenient to our schedules, but because it allowed us to approach this activity with meaning, instead of insisting we wait until later and throwing everything on since we had no time (been there, done that!).
Or, there was the year I had shingles Nov./Dec.,as well as a terrible infection that led to surgery in early December. That year was a simplified year. Or the year the Christmas tree burst out of its packing box in the garage in October, and I couldn’t wrestle it back in and got tired of stepping over it every time I walked to the outside freezer. That year, the tree went up before Thanksgiving!
In 2005, my sister passed away in February. That Christmas, I desperately needed a living, real Christmas tree, breathing life through the house, reminding me with every scented breath that life was real, life was beautiful, life was worth living and loving for. That year, the tree was up as soon as possible. It was such a deep need.
The point being, when and how you approach putting up and decorating your Christmas tree can really vary. I love the import it gives to do a gradual approach (tree with lights at Thanksgiving; purple ornaments for Advent weeks 1 and 2; adding all the other ornaments on week 3), but that doesn’t always match what our lives look like on any given year. You are not a bad Christian for putting your tree up Thanksgiving afternoon (or earlier!). You are not on the side of the angels simply because you wait until a liturgically-influenced later time. There are Rites and Rituals and then there are rites and rituals. The capital Rs have demands bigger than our busy calendars; the lowercase rites and rituals are traditions that can bend without breaking. A Christmas tree is the latter, a meaningful tradition that we can make work for us without losing the meaningfulness behind it.