One of the crowning achievements of my teenage life came at tender age of 14. I remember it like it was yesterday. There was a nip in the air and the children of the Jones household was anxiously anticipating the time honored tradition that was about to take place. And by anxiously anticipating, I mean one of my sisters was on the phone with some boy, the other was listening to cassettes (yes we are old- now back off) in her room, and I was poised to defeat yet another level of Super Mario Brothers on the 5 inch tv/radio (I’m not kidding) that sat next to my bed. The time had come however, for the kids of the Jones home to decorate the tree for Christmas. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and it had become a tradition for the kids to put the ornaments on after my mother slaved to put the tree up (in hindsight, we probably should have helped her with that). The three of us, somewhat begrudgingly went to the living room and began to decorate the tree. And then it happened. It was time to put the star on top of the tree. For countless years I had watched my do this with awe and wonder (ok- I just watched). This year however, I was tall enough to put the star on. Yes this is a big deal, I come from a family that is vertically challenged. In my family, I am practically a giant. Anyway, I placed the star on top of the tree and that became my official Christmas job. I remember looking at that star, how it twinkled and I couldn’t help but think…..is that crooked?
Sorry to disappoint you, but I never really considered the meaning of the tree or the star, or the traditions and where they came from, well, not until now. Tonight, I thought we might wander into the world of the Christmas tree, perhaps its possible origins and traditions, as well as answering the age old question of whether it’s Christian or pagan.
The Christmas tree has been a hotly contested issue between hard line conservative Christians the world over. Many conservative Christians believe that the Christmas tree came from pagan rituals celebrating the winter solstice during the month of December. Others argue that this tradition dates back to the mid 15th & 16th centuries to very devout men of God. One thing that can be agreed on, pagan or not, the Christmas tree came from the country of Germany. Many of these traditions are unique and extraordinary. The first legend is of St. Boniface, missionary to the German tribes. The legend claims that the tribe worshiped Thor ( yes, that Thor). St. Boniface challenged Thor to strike him down as he chopped the oak tree that Thor supposedly resided. Boniface wanted to prove to the tribe that God, not Thor was the God of all. A stiff wind blew as he chopped and the tree fell to the ground. In its place was a fir tree growing in the roots of the mighty oak and St. Boniface claimed it as a tree of Christ. The second legend is that of the “paradise tree.” These were trees adorned with apples as decorations to signify the trees in the Garden of Eden. The third, and most popular story of the Christmas tree has its origins with Martin Luther. It was said that walking home through the woods, Luther admired the moonlight as it landed on the branches of the evergreens in the forest. He was so taken with this spectacle that he cut the tree down and placed it in his home for his family adorning it with candles to mimic what he saw that night. Christmas trees, however, would not become en vogue until the reign of Queen Victoria in England during the 19th century. It was Queen Victoria that encouraged her German husband to decorate a tree in the palace like he did as child growing up in Germany. This tree was featured in a prominent London news outlet and soon all of Europe and North America were decorating trees in their home. In fact, by 1900, 1 in 5 families had a Christmas tree.
Regardless your belief in the origins of the Christmas tree, the iconic symbol of Christmas has many traditions that have stood the test of time. The lighting of the Christmas trees was the most fascinating for me to learn about. These people used LIVE CANDLES on a real tree in their house. Pardon the grammar, but ain’t nobody in good hands when you use real candles on a real tree- not even All-State. Nevertheless, that is exactly what these trees were lit with until electricity provided a safer way to make our trees twinkle.
However, not all traditions are kept like they were. First of all, I saw the first Christmas tree go up in Walmart this year by the second week of OCTOBER!!!!!!! This of course is to maximize the retail season of Christmas, which is the biggest of the year. People are putting up their trees earlier and earlier. The earliest I heard any of my friends say they had put their tree up was November 1. Allow me to use this as the “Did You Know” section of this post. Did you know that the traditional time to put up the Christmas tree is December 24th? The tree would traditionally stay up until the eve of Epiphany on January 5, exactly 12 days later (yes this is where we get the song 12 days of Christmas).
So, as I wrap this minute up for the evening, I still haven’t really answered the question if the tree is pagan or is it Christian. There is decent evidence to support either argument, or at least good circumstantial evidence. So, here is my official answer. Who cares!! Romans 8:28 tells us,”And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” That simply means that God is orchestrating all of this to the glory and up-building of His Kingdom. I truly believe that it comes down to our intentions. We teach our children that the reason we celebrate Christmas is to celebrate a risen and coming savior. The lights represent the light of the world that Jesus brought to all mankind. The presents represent the gifts given to Jesus at the nativity. And the star? I see our Christmas tree and see that star on top of the tree, how it twinkled and I can’t help but think…….a group of men followed a star to worship a new born King (see, I grew up a little).
In Christ Alone,
Rev. Bro. Coach
Angie Mosteller. http://www.celebratingholidays.com/?page_id=1535.