Did you know that some Christians won’t have a Christmas tree because they think that it is pagan? That comes from having heard an untrue story. Yes, the pagans had sacred trees, but they were oak trees. They nailed human sacrifices on their trunks to Oden.
The Christmas tree actually does have something to do with that, but in a most remarkable way.
The story, and I have no reason to doubt it, goes like this: An English monk by the name of Winfrid went to the pagan Germans to try to convert them to Christ. His monk name was Boniface.
He was horrified by their practice of human sacrifice, so he chopped down the most special oak tree, the one named Yggsdrassil, that they called the world-tree and believed held the heavens up above the Earth.
For some reason, this made the Germans very angry. I can’t imagine why 🙂 They gathered in a mob and were about to kill him, even as he started preaching to them, with his back to the felled oak.
As they gathered and were about to kill him, they stopped in amazement. Behind him, unbeknownst to Winfrid, a fir tree miraculously sprung up from the stump (or beside the stump) of the pagan tree. As the sun set, and Winfrid/Boniface started to have trouble reading his text, so his disciples held candles up beside him so that he could see. To the Germans, it was as if the candles were in the tree. This last part might be legend, but the story as a whole, I believe. Miracles do accompany missions to unreached peoples, from time to time.
It was this fir tree that Martin Luther revived as part of Christmas celebrations for the Lutherans. The candles in the tree (we use safer electric lights) represent the Light of the World who was born that Christmas Day in the wee hours of the morning, our Lord Jesus Christ.
It was a Lutheran pastor who introduced the practice to America. America’s culture comes mostly from England and the British Isles, as do most of our Christmas traditions. But this one a Lutheran pastor brought us, at first shocking the English Americans around him, but it was rapidly picked up. Why just have evergreen garlands when you can also have a tree?
When I was a little boy, my Dad made me a very accurate toy barn, to the scale of toy tractors. I’ve always thought that a nativity scene made that nicely could be put under the tree, so that the presents would be placed around the baby Jesus, as it were, to remind us of what it is really all about. The tree would have to be up higher on a box or something, (allowing a smaller, cheaper Christmas tree ;-). I understand that some people already do this.