Pastor’s Pen – December 2016

O Christmas Tree

Trees were used in various pagan religious celebrations throughout history, but contrary to popular belief, there does not appear to be any direct link between the pagan rituals and the Christmas tree. Rather, the Christmas tree almost certainly has its roots (no pun intended) in Christian practices.

The Christmas tree almost certainly originated in Germany. There are three stories of its origin spanning from the 8th to the 16th century.

(1) In the 8th century, St. Boniface was a missionary in Germany. He is best known for “Felling of Thor’s Oak.” It is said that upon entering a town in northern Hesse, Boniface learned that the people worshiped the god Thor. They believed that Thor resided in their great oak tree. Boniface announced that he was going to cut down the oak, and he openly challenged Thor to strike him down. Miraculously, as Boniface began to chop the oak, a mighty wind blew and hurled the tree to the ground. Tradition holds that a fir tree was growing in the roots of the oak, and Boniface claimed the tree as a symbol of Christ. The tree served as a reminder of the mighty God who was humbly born into the world as a man on Christmas day.

(2) Among popular medieval religious plays was the “Paradise” play. It started with the creation of man, acted out the first sin, and showed Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. It closed with the promise of a coming Savior, which made the play a favorite during the Christmas season. In the play, the Garden of Eden was most often represented by a fir tree hung with apples and surrounded by candles. By the 15th century, Christians started to decorate their trees not only with apples (the symbol of sin and the need for a Savior) but with small white wafers (the symbol of Christ’s body, the Savior). These wafers were later replaced by little pieces of pastry cut in the shape of stars, angels, bells, etc.

(3) A third tradition attributes the Christmas tree to Martin Luther. One Christmas Eve, Luther was walking through the woods near his home. He was struck by the beauty of how the snow shimmered in the moonlight on the branches of the trees. To re-create the magnificent sight for his family, he cut down the tree, placed it in his home, and decorated it with candles.

Interestingly, in the Bible, God compares himself to a tree. He says, “I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me” (Hosea 14:8b). This is a relevant analogy to consider during the Christmas season. The fruitful lives of Christians can serve as the “ornaments” that draw others to admire the “tree” – God himself!

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