The decorating of an evergreen tree at Christmas as we know it can be traced back to an old German custom, and more popularly known, Victorian England. Just as the evergreen wreath symbolizes eternity and fidelity, so the lush evergreen tree can said to represent the same. Scripture is filled with the significance of trees, in both the Old and New Testaments, see the Psalm below. Generally the tree is not decorated until late Christmas Eve as Advent is still a season of penance, if not as filled with sorrow as Lent is. However, some families find the preparation for Mass the next day Christmas dinner to be of such importance that the Christmas Eve is taken up with these preparations, so on the Third Sunday of Advent, they choose to put up the family tree. Certainly the tree should not be up the day after Thanksgiving as is done in so many homes today. Customarily the tree should be adorned with little family treasures and religious symbols. Bright balls and lights are fine also and lend a festive touch especially for children of all ages, as do handmade garlands from natural items, such as popcorn or berries; little birds are very appropriate for the symbolism and dried plants and fruits. The idea of jolly Santas, elves, Christmas puppies in socks, etc., are of more recent development and not appropriate because we are celebrating Jesus' birthday. Many families place the crèche under the tree and gifts, if exchanged, are not placed there until Christmas Day or after Midnight Mass.
Printed with permission from Catholic Tradition.