The smell of mandarin oranges always takes me back to quiet December mornings in my childhood, sitting at a dining room table lit only by the glow of the lights on the Christmas tree. We usually put our tree up in early December, when the urge struck Mom or Dad to do so. Mom turned on the Christmas music while Dad (and later my brothers) strung the lights on the tree. Then we could put the rest of the ornaments on.
For years, those included the painted, salt-dough ornaments my brothers and I had made as kids—until the year we decided, as teens, that those were corny and childish and we put them away. There was also a small glass angel, a pompom mouse in a walnut shell, a nutcracker, a plastic Santa off the top of a candy tube, a collection of red glass balls that got smaller every year, a few crocheted wreaths, and more—each ornament had its own story.
Now, my husband and I are making new Christmas traditions together. This weekend was the first Sunday in Advent, so we set up our Christmas tree. Waiting for a certain day to break out all the Christmas decorations made it seem more exciting. We’ve only done a Christmas tree once in the five years that we’ve been married (partly because we’re usually traveling during Christmas and partly because we’ve had small children around to pull at the tree), so just having a tree is exciting. It made me think about what the traditions and stories surrounding the Christmas tree…
St. Boniface and the Christmas Tree
St. Boniface was an English bishop who went to Germany as a missionary in the eighth century. After some success there, he went to Rome to visit with Pope Gregory II. When he returned to Germany, he found that his congregation had forgotten all his preaching and was preparing to sacrifice a young man beneath the Sacred Oak of Odin. In holy anger, St. Boniface chopped down the oak tree. All of that is historical fact; the next part is legend.
A small fir tree either survived when the oak tree was chopped down, or sprang up from the oak tree’s stump. St. Boniface was familiar with the tradition of taking evergreen plants into the house as a sign of hope during the dark winter months. He told his congregation to take a fir tree into their homes as a sign of peace and immortality, and to think of the dwelling place of God when they looked at the tree pointing upwards.
Another legend about how the Christmas tree became popular involves Martin Luther. One Christmas Eve in about 1500, he was walking through the forest when he was overcome by the beauty of God’s creation. To share this with his family, he brought a fir tree into their home and decorated it with candles to mimic the stars in the sky.
Family Christmas Tree Traditions
“We set up our trees on Friday night! We have two, both artificial, and one is our family tree with homemade and special keepsake ornaments, and the other one is in our living room with ‘fancier’ bought ornaments. We have something special for dinner and listen to Christmas CDs while we decorate as a family, and then watch a favourite Christmas movie together. I’m excited already!” ~ Julianne Harvey
“To encourage gratefulness instead of greed during the Christmas season, plan to make a blessings tree. Purchase 25 clear, plastic, fill-able ornaments online or from a craft store. Each day in December, fill an ornament with a visual reminder of something that you are thankful for. For example, if you are thankful for snow, fill a ball with shredded coconut to represent snowflakes. Other “stuffers” could be photos, drawings, non-perishable food items, small toys, fabric, yarn, buttons or beads. As you fill the ornaments, take time to thank God for the blessings He has placed in your lives.” ~Laurel Kirchner, creator of Kids of Integrity.