Christmas trees sprout memories, faith

December 13, 2022

Eusebio Tijerina, at right, throws a football with his young relative, Hayes Derr, between trees in the Knights of Columbus Council 7206 Christmas Tree Lot at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Baytown. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

BAYTOWN — Whether real or artificial, the Christmas tree is an iconic symbol of the Christmas season just like the Nativity scene. With Christmas just weeks away, most church sanctuaries feature the evergreen tree, some towering above the altar and others humbly sprucing up space nearby.

Either way, in the busy rush of tree trimming, light decorating, trip planning, meal prepping and the general hectic pace of the holiday, it’s easy to forget that the Christmas tree has an important purpose of being a prominent fixture in every home.

In Baytown, the Knights of Columbus Council 7206 has posted up at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church and opened a Christmas tree lot for at least 20 years. This year the trees made a 35-hour trek, shipped in from a tree farm in Bellevue, Washington in mid-November.

The tree lot sits just off West Baker Road, on a corner of the parish grounds, where two bright white signs encourage passing drivers to “support charity - buy a tree.”

On a recent Monday evening, what had started as a grove of 200 trees of different species — Noble, Douglas and spruce among them — all lined up in rows, had finally dwindled to a little more than a dozen. For at least 20 years, the council has sold Christmas trees at that spot, becoming a local tradition for parish families and community members, according to Eusebio Tijerina, grand knight of Council 7206.

Each wintry-smelling tree sale helped the council raise funds for its charitable efforts of supporting widows in the community, high school scholarships, seminarian support, the local pregnancy resource center, parish youth events and St. Joseph Catholic School in Baytown, as well as other causes.

On that Monday evening, as the sun eked its way down the horizon, a family visited the lot in the hunt for the perfect tree. Scouting around, looking at the remaining trees, all still green and healthy thanks to the efforts by the Knights to water and tend to the trees, they eventually left after not finding “the one.” Still, the council expected to clear the lot by the second weekend of December, as most people finally get around to putting up their Christmas decorations and trimming the tree after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Two other Knights, Alonso Lopez Jr. and Martin Oliveres, were on hand that afternoon to help visitors process the trees they might pick. The Knights saw off the bottom of each tree, so it has a new base to keep itself fresh into the New Year. They also offered local delivery if the buyers lived within 10 to 15 minutes of the parish.

The three Knights agreed that they’ve enjoyed seeing generations of families come through the tree lot every year, with once-young children, years later, bringing children of their own to carry on a tradition of finding the perfect family Christmas tree.

A relative of Tijerina, a young kindergartner, came to spend some time with his elder relative at the tree lot that afternoon. The tree lot became a playground as the youngster darted through and even under the trees that towered over him. Hide and seek became tag, then eventually, a football soon began to fly between the evergreens.

“Catch it with your hands; keep your hands up,” Tijerina would coach the little one down a row of trees. Now sporting a pair of receiver gloves, the young boy eventually started to catch on, but not without diving a time or two when the ball got too close to his face.

Earlier, when the area was full to the brim with trees, a local photographer held a mobile studio for family Christmas portraits at the Knights’ lot. Families would take their photos, then pick a tree to take home.

It’s those memories that encouraged Tijerina to continue their efforts every year, in addition to their desire to serve those in need in the area. Families came to the parish from as far as Anahauc, some 30 minutes away across Trinity Bay.

A bit of Santa’s workshop seemed to appear on the church grounds with the arrival of the tree lot every year. As dusk began to set, the colorful Christmas lights strewn around the Knights’ concession stand-turned-tree-workshop glowed brighter and brighter in the darkening sky.

Free branches, leftovers from purchased trees now nestled in nearby homes, offered crafters evergreen pieces for holiday wreaths and swags. The slices of tree trunks could also become comforting tree-scented room fresheners when tossed into a crackling fireplace.

Thousands of miles away, it’s also beginning to a lot like Christmas at the Vatican, with the arrival of a Christmas tree and nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis met with groups from Sutrio and Rosello in Italy, and Guatemala, who donated the nearly 100-foot tree and the wood-carved nativity scene. The tree and the creche were officially lit and unveiled on Dec. 5.

“The tree and Nativity display are two signs that continue to charm young and old,” he said. “The tree, with its lights, reminds us of Jesus who comes to illuminate our darkness, our existence often closed up in the shadow of sin, fear and pain. And it suggests to us a further reflection: like trees, people too need roots.”

He told the groups that trees can only grow and “resist the winds that shake it” if they’re rooted in good soil.

“It is important to safeguard the roots, in life as well as faith,” he said. “In this regard, the apostle Paul reminds us of the foundation in which to root our lives in order to remain firm: he says to remain ‘rooted in Jesus Christ’ (Col 2:7). This is what the Christmas tree reminds us of: to be rooted in Jesus Christ.”

He reminded them that “God loves us so much that he shares our humanity and our lives.”

“He never leaves us by ourselves; He is at our side in all circumstances, in joy as in sorrow,” he said. “Even in the worst moments, He is there because He is the Emmanuel, the God with us, the light that illuminates the darkness and the tender presence that accompanies us on our journey.”