Sunday, December 31, 2017

LET'S KEEP THE CHRISTMAS TREE IN CHRISTMAS

Salzburger Missale, Bd. 3
=Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Clm 15710,
Bildnr. 127
"In the time of my childhood, when one saw the Christmas tree [(Tannenbaum)] not, as today, several weeks before Christmas in all places of business and on [every] street corner, [and] when, even at home, the preparation of the tree progressed in secret, there arose [(erwachte, developed)] for the very first time in our young lives the religious experience [(Gefühl, feeling)] of [(als) a] holy and beatifying shudder [(Schauer)] in the presence of [(vor)] the Mystery, when our parents, on the evening of the 24th of December, opened for us expectant children the door to the [four-cornered] room in which, as coming from another world, the [profoundly Christian] tree [of Paradise, of the knowledge of good and evil but ultimately of life as well], flooded in candlelight, stood."

     Oscar Cullmann, Die Entstehung des Weinachtsfestes und die Herkunft des Weihnachtsbaumes (Suttgart:  Quell Verlag, 1990 [1947]), 67-68.  The great biblical scholar Oscar Cullmann was born in 1902, and first published this in 1947.  So he would have been speaking of the first decade of the 20th century.  I have tried to incorporate between the square brackets here some hints at the thesis set out on pp. 50-53, namely that the decorated Christmas tree is profoundly Christian in origin, i.e. that the latter two of its three stages of development were unmistakably Christian, and that only with the third (the second Christian), which was deeply indebted to the late medieval Paradise play staged in front of the church on Christmas Eve, do we arrive at the Christmas tree we would all recognize today.  Whether this thesis (set forth without the sort of scholarly apparatus one would expect from a scholar of Cullmann's stature) has withstood the test of time is something I hope to investigate.
     Cullmann is still cited and followed by Susan K. Roll in the great Theologische Realenzyklopädie, sv Weihnachten/Weihnachtsfest/Weinachtspredigt (vol. 35 (2003), p. 465, ll. 10-19).

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