Years ago, when I was teaching Spanish to elementary kiddos, I taught a lesson about the Tree of Life as it related to Mayan culture.
Though the Tree of Life isn’t necessarily associated with the new year, I decided to have the students write their intentions for the new year on the back of various designs, and I hung them on a bulletin board as ornaments.
I chose to do that because a Tree of Life represents a journey. It’s recognized across cultures and what better time to celebrate the reminder of how special life is, especially in the dormancy of winter?
Tree of Life Meaning
Across cultures, the Tree of Life is a recognized symbol. It may have different names, but it’s an iconic symbol for life and growth.
The Tree of Life in the Biblical Book of Genesis
The Tree of Life appeared in the Garden of Eden. There’s a lot of disagreement whether this is also the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or if it’s a separate tree. Still, most agree that it symbolizes connectedness and the link between heaven, earth and the underworld.
The Tree of Immortality in Islamic Culture
The Tree of Life is the Tree of Immortality and, according to Islamic customs, was the only tree in the Garden of Eden. It’s also seen as a bridge to heaven.
The Acacia Tree in Egyptian Mythology
In ages past, Isis and Osiris (as a couple) emerged from the Tree of Life, or, the Acacia Tree. This tree represented life and death. It splits into East and West. It has more symbolism and meanings, but, as an interesting side note, the Acacia Tree has the chemical and psychedelic drug, DMT (don’t ask me what that means, haha) in it, which people have used to have “spiritual experiences”.
The Bodhi Tree in Buddhism (and Hinduism)
To Buddhists, this tree is sacred and existed long before Buddha put it on the map, where they say he achieved Enlightenment. Bodhi means “awakening.” Before the Buddha, the Hindus associated the trunk of the tree with Vishnu, who is one of a trinity of gods. Brahma – associated with the roots – and Shiva – associated with the leaves – are the other two.
The Kapok Tree in Mayan Culture
The Mayans believed that the Tree of Life connected heaven (which was hidden by a mythical mountain), earth and the underworld. It split into the four directions (North, South, East and West, all depicted by a cross) and was the source of life.
The Kabbalah Tree of Life
In Kabbalah, the Tree of Life is etched from the sacred geometrical form, the Flower of Life. According to Kabbalah wisdom, the tree symbolizes how all things came from infinite nothingness to a universe of infinite things. Each column and pillar represent ideas about equilibrium, wisdom, loving-kindness, and more.
Still, many other cultures share similar stories of the Tree of Life. In fact, this is all rather astounding to see the interconnectedness of cultural identities and symbolism here.
Why Create a Tree of Life Representation for the New Year?
When I first did this with my students, I chose the beginning of a calendar year to represent “rebirth” and a new time for recharging and getting in touch with oneself.
Since then, I’ve always wanted to create my own Tree of Life to represent a New Year with re-affirmations of my intentions and as a symbol of light in a rather dark time of year (with the shorter days and the full-on season of winter ahead).
So…I did. And on New Year’s Day, I created a little symbolic ceremony with the Tree of Life.
Create Your Own Tree of Life
You Will Need:
- a collection of small branches, no more than 5-6 ft tall (alternatively, you can re-use a Christmas tree, or decorate some sort of tree-plant)
- two cans of white spray paint
- light-colored iridescent glitter (optional)
- thread (optional)
- hole punch
- white lights
- print outs of Tree of Life ornaments, cut out with ONE intention for the year written on the back
Why I Chose the Color “White”
The color white is representative of all the colors of light. It’s a color of purity, of peace, and light itself. It’s also a color that represents illumination (enLIGHTenment), new beginnings and possibilities, protection, healing and spirituality.
How to Make the Tree:
- Select your branches and line them up over a tarp or cardboard so the spray won’t get on everything.
- Shake the spray paint for 1 minute and then go to town! Spray as much or as little as you’d like. Don’t worry about perfectly coating every little spot unless you want to. I went for a rustic, wintry look.
- While the paint is still wet, sprinkle it with the glitter.
- When the paint is dry to the touch, flip the branches over and spray the other side, following up with the glitter.
- Let dry overnight.
- Gather your branches together, and tie them off with some twine and cut to size as necessary.
- Get another piece of twine and a tack and secure the tree to a wall, near an outlet.
- Get your white lights and string them on the tree.
- Then, get your ornament print outs. You can color them or not. For this project, I did not color them; I wanted to stay with light colors in keeping with the white light theme.
- Write your intentions for this year, with each ornament holding one intention. You can also write for the future: 5 years from now, 10 years from now, 25 years from now. This is a good exercise for you to help determine the direction you’re going in, and if you’d like to change something.
- Hole punch the top of each paper ornament and use more twine or thread to secure your ornaments to the tree. (Clicking on the ornament images will take you to a PDF where you can print them out.)
For the Ornaments:
I printed out two copies of the ornaments and cut them out. I hole-punched the top of them and strung twine through them.
On the back of each, I wrote out one intention I had for 2017. I reserved four others to write intentions for ONE YEAR from now, FIVE years from now, TEN years from now, and TWENTY-FIVE years from now.
It’s a good exercise to help you see your “why” and what you want to be doing in 25 years. Amazingly, it allows you to see how the decisions you make today can all add up to where you want to be in 25 years!
What Each Ornament Symbolizes:
- The “eye”: looks within and peers ahead 1, 5, 10, and 25 years from now
- The Tree of Life: represents just that!
- The Swirly Tree of Life: also represents the Tree of Life, but also a reminder to be flexible
- The “leaves”: a reminder to commune with nature
- The “wheel”: a reminder to be moving forward
- The “dove”: a reminder to bring peace wherever I go
- The “yin/yang” swirls: a reminder to find balance, but also to not be too hard on myself by allowing for flexibility
- The “Celtic heart”: a reminder to spread love, hope, and a positive message
- The “Seed of Life”: not only is it the symbol I use for this blog, but it’s a reminder to be open, to growth, to being everything I can be
You Can Create a Tree of Life Anytime!
I chose the New Year to do this project. But, honestly, this doesn’t have to be done on Jan. 1. You can choose to do this project at any other time.
You’re probably seeing this post after 1 January.
Perhaps you want to do a project like this sometime in January.
Perhaps you want to do it on the 12th day of Christmas, or the Day of the Three Kings on 6 January.
Or maybe you want to wait until Diwali, the Festival of Light in India.
Or perhaps you’d like to wait until your birthday. Or another significant-to-you day.
Whatever the case may be, intentions can be made at any time. Not just on January 1.
So have fun! And do come back and let me know in the comments how it went. 🙂
Note: This is a “Sunday” post to coincide with the New Year. I will get back to posting on Mondays after this.