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Out of the question: Advent Christmas Tree Festivals?

19 December 2011

Your answers

Am I alone in questioning the proliferation of “Christmas Tree Festivals” in churches during the weeks of Advent? Are these festivals an appropriate way to observe this holy season?

An increasing number of churches organise a “Christmas Tree Festival” that is outstandingly successful in attracting hundreds of visitors who might never otherwise darken the doors of their local church.

Like carol-singing in the early weeks of December, this brings Christmas into Advent, and is regarded by many as the latest transgression of the rule that the festival ought not to be anticipated.

Nevertheless, the contemporary Church, within a largely post-Christian and secularised society, should recognise a mixed economy in Advent observance, because of an obvious tension between the Church’s understanding of the season, and the general mood of the outside world, which treats the weeks before Christmas as an extended festive season. A church will be wise to live with this tension and use it creatively by keeping the holy season at two levels.

The time-honoured discipline and messages of Advent must certainly be maintained in well-ordered liturgy and worship, but with a readiness to reach beyond the community of faith by making effective contact with the outside world.

A “Christmas Tree Festival”, apart from raising funds, proves to be an innovative way to bring outsiders into church buildings, and draw together diverse communities of businesses, schools, clubs, and societies: nothing could be more appropriate at any season. A Christmas tree, universally an iconic symbol of the “festive” season, can within the setting of a church event, become a pointer to deeper truths.

Jane Williams, in her book Approaching Christmas, writes about the place of Christmas trees — and surely her apposite words apply to Tree Festivals, even in Advent — when she says: “Part of the charm of the Christmas Tree is exactly that power to evoke the strange and wonderful. Simply by being a tree, yet indoors, it speaks of the fact that ordinary rules do not apply during Christmas. The outside world is brought inside, or perhaps the inside world is shared with the outside — who knows which is the right description? Either way, as we deck the tree, we are celebrating a time when barriers are dissolved, when we can see magic in the ordin­ary.”

(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthsire

Your questions

We have moved our church organ to improve sound transmission. It has left a vacant space, 15 ft x 10 ft, between two substantial pillars. Behind is a vestry, now enlarged, but requiring some security. What might be available from a redundant church to help us? N. A. P.

Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 13-17 Long Lane, London EC1A 9PN.


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