A Tradition-ful Advent:
The Christmas Tree
A Little History:
The evergreen tree has long been an ancient symbol of life in the midst of winter. As such, it was used in many winter celebrations, both pagan and Christian. Tradition says that in the seventh century, a zealous young English missionary named Winfred (later to become known as Saint Boniface) was the first to use the tree as a Christian object lesson to represent God. He used the tree to teach the gospel to people who thought trees should be worshiped. He taught that each point of the triangular shaped tree represented a different Person of the Trinity – Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. He would then use the tree to explain Jesus’ victory over death on the cross (the tree) and the eternal life made available to us by the King of Kings. In the 16th century, Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it. In early church calendars of saints, December 24th was Adam and Eve’s day. On the eve before, the churches would act out German Mystery or Miracle Plays in front of Church. The plays told Bible stories to people who could not read. One of the central “characters” in these plays was the Paradise Tree which represented the Garden of Eden. It was often paraded around the town before the play started, as a way of advertising the play. Soon after, devout Christians began to bring these decorated trees into their own homes. If they couldn’t afford a real plant, people made pyramids of woods and they were decorated to look like a tree with paper, apples and candles. Tradition has it that these wooden pyramid trees were meant to be like Paradise Trees.
Even the youngest of children can look at the Christmas tree and see an arrow pointing up to heaven. It’s a simple reminder to look up and remember of why we celebrate Christmas, heaven came down. God sent his son, Jesus, to the world to save us when we were still yet sinners. He came to redeem us so we can spend eternity with him. To dive in a little deeper though, an evergreen tree has a very appropriate name. It is ever green – always green. Just like in ancient days, it still reminds us of life in the midst of winter. It does not become dormant in the winter as other trees do. As such it symbolizes our everlasting life with Jesus Christ and being life in a world that is dying. As Saint Boniface taught, the triangle shape reminds us of the trinity: Father, Son & Holy Spirit, and reminds us of Jesus’ victory over death when he died on the tree. Trees as a whole also carry a lot of symbolism in Jesus’ teachings – bearing good fruit, growing from a small seed to provide shelter for the birds who come perch in it’s branches, having deep roots in Christ, being grafted into God’s chosen people… as we grow in maturity in our faith, this symbol of Christmas can grow in meaning as well.
*As a side note, this tree can also symbolize the Jesse Tree; Jesse was the father of King David. Christ is from that lineage. The Jesse Tree is another great advent tradition during the holidays.
Verse(s) to Remember:
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” 1 Peter 2:24
Ideas to Make it Stick:
- If you haven’t yet, now’s a great time to go pick out and put up your own family Christmas tree. You can even leave it undecorated for one day and use the simplicity of the tree to remember why it’s there in the first place.
- Put up mini trees in each kids bedroom. (Each of our kids have a small tree for on top of their dresser that they get to decorate however they want, they like to redecorate it all month long!) If you can string a small stand of lights on it, it makes a great night light too!
- Go visit a town tree, great place for a family photo.
- Make & decorate a tree out of construction paper
- Read the Book The Legend of the Christmas Tree
Please feel free to share with friends and leave comments… Do you have other connections between the tradition and the heart of the holiday? Creative ideas to make it stick? I’d love to know what you and your family do with this!