Christmas tree tradition and symbolism in Zimbabwe

The Chronicle

Fortunes Matutu

It’s Christmas time again, a season filled with festivities and joy as families and loved ones get to spend time together.

During this season lots of evergreen conical shaped trees become a centrepiece of the festivities with various aesthetic, cultural and spiritual significance. 

The Christmas tree is one of the most important symbols associated with the birth of Jesus Christ. When one visits shops and homes during this season, he or she is met with decorated Christmas trees confirming the tradition of Christmas tree is well established in Zimbabwe’s culture as it is in other countries. 

For some people, having or not having a Christmas tree has no spiritual significance. Whatever the reason, loving Christmas trees comes down to conscience, tradition and accessibility.

Christmas trees therefore symbolise various aspects of the holiday today. For some people, Christmas trees strongly mean embracing the holiday season, giving and receiving gifts and embracing eternal life. 

During Christmas time, the Christmas tree and its accompanying decorations are in high demand.

Plant dealers in urban areas grow Christmas tree species targeting the festive season. Silviculture practices like pruning are applied in the nursery for many months for the trees to develop a good height and shape.

At this time of the year, nurseries sell various tree species as Christmas trees to customers accompanied by their various decorations. Some Christmas trees are booked six months in advance. Each tree ranges from an average of USD2 up to USD200. 

The most popular used tree species are exotic evergreen conical-shaped trees such as pine, casuarina and cypress trees. These trees have been grown widely in Zimbabwe for the past 120 years. They are tall, evergreen and used as ornamental trees to line streets in cities and towns and as windbreaks on farms. 

Indigenous trees are slowly being adopted as Christmas trees. Some of the observed trees being sold by tree dealers and in displays include terminalia stuhlamanni and terminalia prunioides, both known as ivikane in Ndebele. 

In the Eastern Highlands one can find an indigenous cypress tree called widdringtonia nodiflora commonly known as mountain cypress. This one closely resembles the traditional Christmas trees found in Europe. 

Living Christmas trees can also be purchased or rented from tree nurseries and plant dealers. Rentals are picked up after the holidays and nurtured in preparation for the next season. Purchased trees can be planted outdoors in driveways as ornamentals and for windbreaks. They can also be kept indoors as house plants. 

It’s an environmental concern how some people cut down old and rare live trees and make smaller Christmas trees from the branches, only to discard them once they have wilted. 

A growing trend is to use artificial trees made from recycled plastics and PVC pipes instead of living ones. The users of artificial Christmas trees contend that they are more convenient, reusable and cheaper than natural ones. 

Real Christmas trees are more eco-friendly and a better choice for the environment and climate. Artificial trees made of PVC are difficult to recycle, they end up in landfills, where they emit greenhouse gases and leach harmful chemicals into ecosystems.

Christmas trees remain a central part of décor and belief for those who celebrate the holidays. Although Christmas is primarily celebrated by Christians to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, its roots can be traced back to Pagan’s history. 

There is nothing in the Bible that either commands or prohibits Christmas trees. It has been falsely claimed by some that Jeremiah 10:1-16 prohibits the cutting down and decorating of trees in the same manner as people do at Christmas.

In Christianity, to some the Christmas tree is symbolic of the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The tree’s branches and shrubs are viewed as an emblem of immortality and are said to symbolise the crown of thorns worn by Christ on the cross.

Christmas tree decorating gives the whole family a memorable experience. Families can gather to decorate the tree and wish each other a healthy and happy New Year. The trees can be decorated with different designs, themes, colour schemes and ornaments. In spiritual terms, our qualities are also said to be ornaments; for example, peace, love, kindness, joy, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness.

Christmas trees and the Christmas festive season are not meant to destroy our culture and traditions as purported by some people. There are many sceptics about Christmas traditions but I believe they are very important in embracing our multiculturalism and cross-cultural interactions in our faith in Christ. 

Just as we are different in our tastes, so we’re different in our tastes in faith and traditions. We’re all true believers about some things and profound sceptics about other things.

Jesus is the reason for the season. Christmas is celebrated to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. It is the best time for families to get together and disconnect from everyday stress. 

The bottom line is that Christmas trees restore people’s connection to the natural world, remind them that they are part of nature and revive their humanity and spirituality.

Wishing you a very joyous Christmas. Remember to take care of your loved ones and the environment. 

λ Fortunes Matutu is a forester with the Forestry Commission and has a special interest in social forestry.

Article Source: The Chronicle

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