Christmas time is jam-packed with traditions. And besides giving and getting presents, there’s few that are as loved and well known as putting up the Christmas tree.
Surely this has got to be one of the most peaceful, joy-filled activities before Christmas? Yeah, not in my family. My mum pretty much becomes an army General barking out commands to her soldiers. First up is the lights; circling from the bottom. Then the tinsel, followed by beads, glass baubles and other ornaments (hint: find somewhere at the back to hide the kid’s home-made ones). Then ribbons to fill in any gaps and finally, carefully hung individual strips of tissue to make it look like icicles are hanging from every branch. The end result is a tree worthy of the Myer High Street display. Us kids are exhausted, but year in year out we still do it.
But do you know where the whole ‘Christmas tree idea’ came from?
Apparently the ancient Egyptians and Romans used palms and green leaves as a symbol of worship to their Gods. Pagans would bring evergreens into their homes during the winter months and decorate them with nuts to brighten the mood. There are several stories of how this transformed into the modern Christmas tree.
One story is of Saint Boniface, a Benedictine Monk in Germany who comes across a group of pagans making sacrifices to the god ‘Thor’ before an Oak tree. Apparently Boniface goes nuts, cuts down the oak with an axe, and the pagans all gather expecting the monk to be immediately struck down by Thor and his big ol’ hammer. When Boniface is still standing however, he takes the opportunity to share the gospel with those gathered and they’re all converted. The legend goes that a fir tree grew out of the stump of the fallen oak and boom – the Christmas tree was born!
This is a pretty close analogy to what the Christmas tree represents – new life growing through the arrival of Jesus on the earth. And not just the new life of Jesus’ birth, but what that birth means for us.
On Christmas Day in 2003 Saint John Paul II said,
So this Christmas, before you search for your presents, just let your eyes linger for a moment on the tree. Remember when you look at it, that greater than any of the gifts that sit beneath its branches is the gift of new birth in Jesus.
Now that’s a miracle worth celebrating.