Earlier this month, a 12 ton, 78 feet Norway Spruce at Rockefeller Center in New York City lit up with 45,000 lights. The tree lighting event at Rockefeller Center started in 1933. But the Christmas tree event goes back to when it was introduced to English high society by Prince Albert who put up an evergreen for the holidays in Windsor Castle in 1841. It had been a pre Christian German symbol, and most Christians at that time loathed the idea of connecting the tree with Christmas. But within 10 years the fanciful custom took root in England and by the end of the 1800’s it also become an established tradition in America with Woolworths stores selling Christmas tree decorations and all.
The tree seems to be a universal symbol in religious and cultural traditions around the world. In Judaism the Torah is referred to as the Tree of Life. The Torah is likened to the branches of a great tree spreading into the sphere of our lives, and it calls upon us to make every act an act for God.
In Buddhism the Buddha attained enlightenment sitting beneath a tree. At one point in his meditation when he was assailed by raging storms and other strange occurrences, a divine serpent arose from the roots of the Bodhi tree to protect him.
"The tree seems to be a universal symbol in religious and cultural traditions around the world."
Nearly a thousand years ago on this continent, Deganawidah, known as the Peace Maker, called for a great council by the shores of Lake Onondaga. There, he carefully uprooted a Pine tree and urged all of the warriors from the gathered tribes to throw their weapons into the hollow of the earth. Then the tree was replanted over the weapons. The tree (the Tree of the Long Leaves) became known as the Tree of Peace. Thus the Great Peace was declared and the five nations of the Iroquois was established.
500 years ago Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the religious leader of the Bhakti Movement, implored us to be as tolerant as the tree which patiently endures the rain and cold and heat. Another time, Caitanya declared to his followers “take the fruits from the Tree of Devotion and give them away freely to all people, in all directions, all over the world. Do not consider who is fit or unfit, let people take these fruits (being the names of God) and become free from old age and death.”
Symbols of spirituality and peace from whatever tradition can surely be revered by all.
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Sankirtana Das, a 40-year resident of New Vrindaban Community, is an award-winning author, storyteller and workshop leader. More info about his book at www.Mahabharata-Project.com[ christmas ] [ new-york ] [ tree ]