The Christmas Tree is a type of the Cross, which itself is a type of the axis mundi: the pole or ladder or rainbow bridge that in ancient cosmology coordinates, communicates and maintains all worlds, and worlds of worlds, from the deepest pit of Hel through Middle Earth, Valhalla and Asgard to the Seventh Heaven. Evergreen, and adorned with the blood red berries of the evergreen holly, it is a type too of the Burning Bush, which in turn is a type of the Menorah or Tree of Lights in the Temple in Jerusalem, and in the sanctuaries of churches throughout the New Jerusalem (look carefully: where there are no menorahs standing at either side of the altar, there are generally six candles upon it, flanking the central light of the Cross, as the six seraphim of the menorah flank the central light of their Angelic King)(the stone of the Altar Throne and the wood of the Tree above it are alike media of sacrifice, and thus types of each other; thus martyrs may rest sometimes in trees, sometimes in altars). It burns always but is never consumed or extinguished. The ever burning lights of the Tree are those of the menorah: angels, whose fire is the fuel of all becoming. The star at its top is their King, and a type of the Star of Bethlehem.
The cross is a type of the Two Trees of Eden. By the fruit of one, man learns of good and evil, and so by knowledge eats death. Eating the fruit of the other, he gains everlasting life, and a godhood proper to his human nature.
Finally, the Cross is a type of the Ark of the Covenant, and thus at once of the other creaturely embodiments and bearers of the Logos, each of them likewise a type of the others: Pentateuch, Israel, Mary, the Church, the Gospel, the saint – i.e., the Christian. Churches are crosses, as may be seen in the plan of any large Gothic church. Entering the Church, one enters the Cross. Churches are then instances of the axis mundi, wherein and whereby worlds interpenetrate; they are termini of Jacob’s Ladder, the Rainbow Bridge.
At the Incarnation, the Logos became man. As an instance of becoming, it was an event at a particular time. But since – God being one Simple Act – the Incarnation was one with the Creation by which the worlds become and are, the Incarnation effected the eternal communication and condition of all worlds; so that it was for all time, and provided all times. The Incarnate Lord, i.e., is the axis mundi: the ordainer and ordination of worlds, and thus the forecondition of all creaturely actuality.
At Christmas, we celebrate the turning of the year – “yule” is “wheel,” and “wreathe” is “bend” – about earth’s solar pole, and the birth of all things at and through the Incarnation. It is fitting then that as ever in our feast days we remember also their final significance and completion in the Passion and Atonement that finished God’s mission in Creation, and in the Resurrection Good Friday enabled, that procures to us and our world each year renewed life, a fresh writhe in our creaturely careers.
For the Nativity of Time we have the Christmas Tree; for its Redemption at Easter to integral wholeness and for its spring of salvation to everlasting life, we have the Maypole: a tree penetrating an evergreen wreath – it is the Advent Wreath, and as being penetrated by the central stem of the menorah it, too, is a chi-rho – and decorated like the Christmas Tree with ribbons and the pendant shields of guilds and clubs and families as it were a trophy of the turning of our battle in this darkling plain with the enemies of our King. The Christmas Tree is the Maypole.
Deck thyselves, then, and thy halls, with boughs of glad bitter holly, and dance, and sing together the lay of that fell and glorious day wherein all worlds are made, lost, won, and made again new.
Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!
Sing, my tongue, the Savior’s battle;
Tell his triumph far and wide;
Tell aloud the wondrous story
Of his body crucified;
How upon the cross a victim,
Vanquishing in death, he died.
Eating of the tree forbidden,
Man had sunk in Satan’s snare,
When our pitying Creator
Did this second tree prepare;
Destined, many ages later,
That first evil to repair.
Such the order God appointed
When for sin he would atone;
To the serpent thus opposing
Schemes yet deeper than his own;
Thence the remedy procuring,
Whence the fatal wound had come.
So, when now at length the fulness
Of the sacred time drew nigh,
Then the Son, the world’s Creator,
Left his Father’s throne on high;
From a virgin’s womb appearing,
Clothed in our mortality.
All within a lowly manger,
Lo, a tender babe he lies!
See his gentle virgin mother
Lull to sleep his infant cries!
While the limbs of God Incarnate
Round with swathing bands she ties.
Thus did Christ to perfect manhood
In our mortal flesh attain;
Then of his free choice he goeth
To a death of bitter pain;
He, the lamb upon the altar
Of the cross, for us was slain.
Lo, with gall his thirst he quenches!
See the thorns upon his brow;
Nails his hands and feet are rending;
See, his side is open now!
Whence, to cleanse the whole creation,
Streams of blood and water flow.
Above all other,
One and only noble tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be;
Sweetest wood and sweetest iron,
Sweetest weight is hung on thee!
Bend thy boughs, O tree of glory!
Thy relaxing sinews bend;
For a while the ancient rigor,
That thy birth bestowed, suspend;
And the King of heavenly beauty
On thy bosom gently tend.
Thou alone wast counted worthy
This world’s ransom to uphold;
For a shipwrecked race preparing
Harbor, like the ark of old;
With the sacred blood anointed,
From the smitten Lamb that rolled.
When, O Judge of this world, coming
In thy glory all divine,
Thou shalt bid thy cross’s trophy
Bright above the stars to shine;
Be the light and the salvation
Of the people that are thine!
Blessing, honor everlasting,
To th’ immortal Deity;
To the Father, Son and Spirit,
Equal praises ever be;
Glory through the earth and heaven
To the blessed Trinity.
– Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus (floruit AD ~530 – 609); Edward Caswall, translator