This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for December 1, 2016, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
Many people refer to the day after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday,” and the Monday after Thanksgiving as “Cyber Monday,” both seen as the kickoff of the Christmas shopping season. For some that is too early to begin your Christmas shopping, and for others, it’s too late, -- I had a proactive friend who was done with his Christmas shopping by the end of October. But what is astonishing to me is how many Christmas trees go up (fully decorated) in East Bernard the day after Thanksgiving. Instead of “Black Friday,” it should be called “Fir Friday.”
The reason I know that a lot of trees went up in East Bernard on the day after Thanksgiving is by seeing the many postings with pictures on Facebook. While my wife is talking about waiting a couple weeks before buying a freshly-cut noble fir, so that the fir needles don’t turn brown before Christmas Day, my friends on Facebook are decorating their tree. “Black Friday” was “Fir Friday” for my daughter and her family, too.
That’s too soon for the wife and me. There we were still eating thanksgiving leftovers, and wondering why we didn’t watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on television the day before, and with almost a week left in November, -- even with a few pieces of Halloween candy left that I hid in the studio, -- no way, it’s too early to put up a tree!
When I was a kid growing up in Dime Box, our tree went up on Christmas Eve, and Santa came that night while we were at the Sunday School children’s program, decorated the tree and put toys under it. It had to be Santa, because our parents were at the Christmas program with us. Also because of the cedar brakes in our pasture, it was a cedar tree, not a fir. I don’t know if it’s an ethnic/cultural difference, or if it’s just old-timey versus modern. I know that other Wendish families in Lee County put their tree up on Christmas Eve also. Back in the days of my childhood, many of the older folks still used real candles which they clipped to the tree, so you put the tree up on Christmas Eve and took it down the day after Christmas. If you waited until the Wise Men came, the very dry tree might burn down.
As Lutherans, we believed that Martin Luther “invented” the Christmas tree, -- whether that’s fact or legend, I’m not sure. But it is true that Luther put real candles on it, which he thought symbolized the angels filling up the Bethlehem sky, and he decorated it with roses. Many Lutherans assume he used red roses, because red rose petals were a Medieval symbol of the blood of Christ. However, Luther would have actually used the wild roses blooming in Germany during the winter; and these were white rather than red. Some years, at our church in Wallis, we put roses on the tree, along with the Crismons. The roses we use are red, but the Chrismons are white.
My take on the Luther story is that he was inspired to use white roses on his tree by the old, old Advent/Christmas Lutheran hymn, “Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen” (“Lo, How a Rose Is Growing”). In the hymn, the rose growing from a branch of the stump of Jesse is Jesus. The last verse says, “This flow’r, so small and tender, with fragrance fills the air; His brightness ends the darkness that kept the earth in fear. True God and yet true man, He came to save His people from earth’s dark night of sin.” The Baby Jesus is this “small and tender” white rose. When I was a kid growing up in Dime Box, we used to sing that song in German, and I had no idea what it meant.
Christmas tree traditions often develop out of what I call “geographical necessity.” Generally speaking, in the United States, the most popular evergreens used are the Douglas Fir, the Balsam Fir, the Fraser Fir, and the Noble Fir. I’m sure that many of these grow in the Northwest, the Northeast, and the Midwest. In Lee County, Texas, before the days of mass transit, we used what grew plentifully in our woods, and that was the Cedar Tree. Folks I have known who grew up in East Texas, said their family always put up a Pine Tree which grew all over the countryside. One acquaintance of mine said they used a Mesquite Tree (which is also an evergreen) for their Yule tree.
You wonder why it matters since more and more people are using artificial trees these days. Green plastic is green plastic. Nonetheless, whether green plastic or freshly cut living trees, these decorated delights are going up on “Fir Friday” every year. I wonder if anyone puts up a tree before Thanksgiving. I do know one family who kept their tree up all year, because every time they tried to take it down, their little girl put up such a yowl they were unable to counter her wailing protests.
I understand. The Christmas tree is a bright spot in a dark world. When I was a child, I was deliriously happy when the tree went up, and morosely sad when it came down.
Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.