The Origins Of The Christmas TreeThroughout history, many cultures have decorated trees ceremoniously. This has sparked many debates as to when and where and why a decorated evergreen became the Christmas tree as we know it and use it today. Depending where you look and who you ask, it may have pagan roots and was later Christianized, or it may have been a Christian symbol to begin with. One place I was reading states:
"An interesting tradition, part history, part legend and very popular in Germany, claims that the Christmas tree dates back to the eighth century. This legend is based on a historical figure, St Boniface, and even a historical event, the destruction of Odin's oak. St Boniface (675-754) was the English Bishop Winfrid who went to Germany in the eighth century, to Hesse to be precise, to preach the Christian faith as a missionary from the Church of Rome. After a period of apparently successful Gospel preaching, Boniface went to Rome to confer with Pope Gregory II (715-731). After a long absence, he returned to Geismar, Germany, for Christmas 723, and felt personally offended on discovering that the Germans had reverted to their former idolatry of pagan divinities and were preparing to celebrate the winter solstice by sacrificing a young man under Odin's sacred oak tree. Fired by holy anger, as was Moses by the golden calf, Bishop Boniface took up an axe and dared to cut down the oak. This courageous, historically documented act meant the triumph of Christianity in Germany over the pagan divinities.
All this is historically documented. The rest belongs to the legend which tells how, at the first blow of the axe, a strong gust of wind instantly brought down the tree. The astounded Germans fearfully recognized the hand of God in this event and humbly asked Boniface how they should celebrate Christmas. The Bishop, the legend continues, pointed to a small fir tree that had miraculously remained upright and intact beside the debris and broken branches of the fallen oak. Boniface was familiar with the popular custom of taking an evergreen plant into the house in winter and asked everyone to take home a fir tree. This tree signifies peace, and as an evergreen it also symbolizes immortality; with its top pointing upwards, it additionally indicates heaven, the dwelling place of God."
Another website I stumbled across had this to say;
"Legend has it that Martin Luther began the tradition of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas. One crisp Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, he was walking through snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share this story with his children. He decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ's birth."
Today the Christmas tree is more of a traditional decoration, mostly a glorified gift receptacle, than it is a tribute to the CHRIST in CHRISTmas. I believe that as Christians we need to be careful of traditions that take away from the true meaning. If you have to work too hard and force a tradition to fit in the God box, then perhaps it's time to find a new tradition. The key to giving MEANING to a tradition is repetition I believe. That is why the Christmas tree is no more than a gift holder for most people- yearly repetition of ignoring it as anything other than such! Perhaps decorating the tree together is a great family time tradition. Honestly though I think that if we don't bring something more to the table regarding the Christmas tree, then it's still just a glorified gift holder. Granted, a family tradition to decorate this glorified gift holder, but still devoid of any personal meaning that portrays Christian beliefs. So let me share with you a few symbolisms I've heard of over the course of my life regarding the Christmas tree. Perhaps a yearly tradition of sharing these Christian symbolisms with our families as we decorate the tree together will plant in our children's minds a deeper meaning for the tree than merely a gift-holder...
-The Christmas tree is an evergreen because it is the symbol of everlasting life by salvation through Jesus.
-The Christmas trees triangular shape represents the Holy Trinity.
-We decorate our tree with lights or candles to symbolize Christ being the Light of the world.
-The star at the top of the tree symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem which led the three magi to baby Jesus.
-The angels, which alternately may top the tree or just be used as decorations or other ornaments symbolize the angels which appeared throughout the story of Christ's birth, particularly the one who told the shepherds the news of Jesus' birth.
-Candy canes we hang on the tree have a beautiful story!
Many years ago, a candy maker wanted to make a candy at Christmas time that would serve as a witness to his Christian faith. He wanted to incorporate several symbols for the birth, ministry and death of Jesus. He began with a stick of pure white hard candy; white to symbolize the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus; hard to symbolize the solid rock, the foundation of the Church; firmness to represent the promise of God. The candymaker made the candy in the form of a "J" to represent the name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. He thought it could also represent the staff of the Good Shepherd, with which he reached down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like all sheep, have gone astray.
Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candymaker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received, by which we are healed. The large red stripe was for the blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life. Unfortunately, the candy became known as a candy cane - a meaningless decoration seen at Christmas time. But the true meaning is still there for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Do you know of any other symbolisms related to the Christmas tree and decorations we hang on it? In Christmases past have you done anything with your family to specifically keep the Christian meanings of the Christmas tree in your childrens' minds above the gifts that wind up under it? When you were growing up what was your view of the Christmas tree? What do you want your kids to grow up remembering about it?
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