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When should you put up your Christmas tree?

And why we should encourage children to make their own cribs

By on Monday, 12 December 2011

A large Christmas tree CNS photo/Paul Haring

A large Christmas tree CNS photo/Paul Haring

When should you put up your Christmas tree? We have only just passed the landmark of Gaudete Sunday, but several people I know, all, it is true, with young children, have put their trees up and decorated them. When, for that matter, should you put up your crib? When I was a child both went up on the 20th December, simply because that was the first day of the school holidays, and cribs and Christmas trees were very much the preserve of the youngest member of the family – me. Indeed, if it had not been for the tyranny of youth, there would have been no Christmas tree at all: my mother thought Christmas trees were in bad taste, and while she allowed a Christmas tree every year (though grudgingly as I grew older) she flatly refused to allow the house to be hung with paper chains, tinsel and other bits of seasonal tat.

Of course we had a real tree, and we would cut it down ourselves: quite a big deal in Malta, which is a rather treeless place. We would usually do our best to take only part of an evergreen, not a whole tree, though I suppose even this practice is pretty unenvironmental. I doubt the patron saint of ecology, St Francis, would have approved.

But he would have like the crib, which he himself invented, after all. I had lots and lots of pasturi (crib figurines , literally, “shepherds”) all made of clay, some of them sculpted by hand, beautiful examples of naïf folk art, made by an old man in the village of Qrendi. He must be long dead, and his skills may have died with him. My crib figures are wrapped away and in storage, where I am not quite sure. But how I would love to see them again.

Alas, nothing is as irrecoverable as the spirit of Christmasses past! I am doing my best to encourage all the children I meet to make their own cribs, remembering the joy it gave me. A proper crib should be made out of papier-mâché, and its construction will keep a small person busy for hours, and of course you have to make a new one every year, bigger and better than the last. I shall never have such joy again, but it would be some consolation if children today could feel now what I once felt then!

  • CaroBeau

    When my children were younger we put the empty crib up on the first day of the school hols and then gradually filled it with farmyard type animals and other “offerings” (favourite small toys which, being Legomen or “transformers’ were perhaps not the best present for the Prince of Peace!) and as the week went on, the shepherds would gather closer at hand, the magi set off on the journey from the furthest corner of the room with the three-legged camel that belonged to my father which he had  passed down and, on the night before Christmas before going to Midnight Mass, we would place Mary and Joseph and the empty manger in the crib … waiting was fun. We brought the Christmas tree indoors from outdoors on the afternoon of Christmas Eve and while listening to the Festival of 9 Lessons & Carols from King’s on the radio, the kids were given free rein to decorate it. They are grown men now and are only able to come home for a few days but I shall be putting the crib out in time for their arrival and they can revert to childhood as much as they want :-) There’s nothing like nostalgia eh?

  • Annie

    Possibly when the tree goes up depends on whether it’s real or not. We gave up on the real thing because I hate clearing up all those pine needles and the dog was always covered in them from forays beneath it.  Our splendiferous old and lovely fake tree is festooned at the start of the school holidays.Our crib though goes up on the first Sunday of Advent, along with the Advent candles, with Mary and Joseph waiting in the stable under the star, and all the other figures get nearer and nearer over the Sundays. I really think you should commission a crib from your tiddler parishioners, and fill it with your crib figures next year!

  • Jeannine

    I think a Christmas tree should be put up on Gaudette Sunday or after.  Advent is to prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming by fasting, almsgiving & prayer, ie. serious stuff. To me the 3rd Sunday of Advent signifies the “final lap” to Christmas. There should be more of a physical acknowledge besides lighting the pink candle. A little bit of festiveness is in order such as trimming the tree.

  • Darryl Smith

    I think a good time to put the tree up is on the feast of St. Nicholas on Dec. 6th. 

  • Adela

    In Argentina we traditionally put up the tree and the crib on the day of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th, which is also a national holiday :-) Then it is all (in theory) taken down on the day of the Epiphany of our Lord, on January 6th.

    There’s also de Advent Crown, which has more obvious dates…

    I know my grandmother used to use a big part of the living room for the crib, so the magi and the shepherds with their sheep could come a bit closer to the crib every day.