The Bride's Tree

by Catherine Fournier

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I had never heard of this interesting tradition until Lisa Zone wrote to Domestic-Church.Com asking : "I have heard that every newlywed bride is supposed to have 12 traditional ornaments on her tree. The problem is, I can't find what they are!!!!"

At first, The 12 Days of Christmas came to mind - I have seen series of ornaments depicting the maids a'milking, lads a'leaping, french hens and etc...and the song 'The 12 Days of Christmas' has a fascinating history. It is in fact a very symbolic catechetical song.

In England from 1558 to 1829, Catholics were not permitted to practice their faith openly. The message of the song's gifts were to help children remember lessons of their faith. The true love mentioned in the song is God Himself, the 'me' is every baptised person. The partridge is one of those birds who feigns injury to decoy predators away from her helpless nestlings - this symbolises Christ.

  • Two turtledoves - the Old and New Testaments
  • Three french hens - Faith Hope and Charity
  • Four calling birds - the four Gospels
  • Five golden rings - the first five books of the Old Testament containing the history of man's fall from grace
  • Six geese a-laying - the six days of Creation
  • Seven swans a-swimming - seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
  • Eight maids a-milking - the eight Beatitudes
  • Nine ladies dancing - nine choirs of Angels
  • Ten lords a-leaping - the ten Commandments
  • Eleven piper's piping - the eleven faithful Apostles
  • Twelve drummers drumming - the twelve points of belief in the Apostle's Creed

Perhaps the 12 ornaments referred to the 12 Apostles. I have heard of, but never seen 'Apostle's Spoons' which are silver spoons with small statues of the apostles on the handles. Rich babies were given a complete set as a baptism present, less wealthy families might have received one or two. The tradition of Apostle's Spoons is the origin of the saying 'Born with a silver spoon in his/her mouth.' But silver Apostles would be very heavy ornaments.

I then thought that the traditional ornaments could be symbolic of the 12 months of the year. Traditionally, a young married couple was not expected to give or receive any entertaining invitations for the first year of their marriage - that time (12 months) was set aside as a time to spend exclusively together, getting to know each other, a happy time reserved for each other. Perhaps the 12 ornaments are to symbolise this happy matrimonial period. Along these lines, the ornaments could be a magi's gift for January and Epiphany, a small pot of Ashes for Ash Wednesday in February, a purple candle for March and Lent, a lily for Easter and April, something blue for Mary and May and so on...

Shonnie Scarola who wrote about our articles about Advent and Christmas traditions sent this story as a partial answer to Lisa's question.

8 Lessons on The Tree That Tells

A Christmas tree in a Christian home can be a tree that tells. It should not only set the mood for Christmas, but should also tell the story... First, the tree itself should be evergreen, a pine or a spruce, to remind us that life is everlasting.

Second, every tree should have a star upon it. It was a star that guided the three Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem. Third, every tree should have upon it a boat. The ship has been a symbol of The Church for centuries. The Church, like a boat, sets sail across the waters of life, sometimes rough and sometimes smooth.

Fourth, our Christmas tree should have upon it a bird. The bird is a reminder of the Holy Spirit. Fifth, a fish should hang on the Christmas tree. The fish is a symbol of Jesus, since he told his disciples: "follow me and I will make you fishers of men." In the early church, Christians placed the fish symbol on their homes as a sign to traveling Christians that there were members of their own faith living there.

Sixth, every tree should have an angel. The song of the angels awakened the shepherds in the field to announce the birth of Jesus Christ. Seventh, every tree should have various colored spheres upon it, to signify the diversity of the world in which we live. Eighth, a tree should have a paper chain or garland wrapped around it because we are all bound together under nations and people by the love of God. Finally, there should be many lights on the tree to tell us that the light of God is reflected by people throughout the world.

Finally we tracked them down. Here are the real 12 traditional ornaments for a bride's first Christmas tree:

  1. Heart- love in the home
  2. House - family shelter
  3. Flower basket - beauty in the home
  4. Basket of fruit - plenty
  5. Teapot - hospitality
  6. Bird in a nest - confidence in the shelter
  7. Pinecone - eternity
  8. Animal - peace with nature
  9. Fish - Christ, as well as fertility
  10. Rose - Virgin Mary
  11. Church or angel - God
  12. Saint Nicholas - giving and sharing

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