By Tamera Lynn Kraft
Some believe the Christmas tree started during the Winter Solstice when Druids worshiped trees. But from the beginning, Christmas trees have been used as Christian symbols to teach about Christ.
The Upside Down Fir Tree
During the 7th century, a monk from Devonshire spent time there preaching the word of God. He used the triangular shape of the Fir tree to teach about the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By the 12th century, the Fir tree was hung upside down from ceilings in Central Europe as a symbol of Christianity at Christmas time.
Boniface and Thor’s Oak
St. Boniface became a missionary to the Germans in the 700′s A.D where he encountered Druids who worshiped trees. To stop their sacrifices at their sacred Donar Oak near Geismar, St. Boniface chopped the tree down in 725 A.D. With one mighty blow, Saint Boniface felled the massive oak, and as the tree split, a beautiful young fir tree sprang from its center. Saint Boniface told the people that this lovely evergreen, with its branches pointing to heaven, was indeed a holy tree, the tree of the Christ Child, a symbol of His promise of eternal life. He instructed them to carry the evergreen from the wilderness into their homes and to surround it with gifts, symbols of love and kindness.
The Paradise Tree
From the eleventh Century, religious plays called “Mystery Plays” including the popular Paradise Play depicting the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin, and their banishment from Eden. An evergreen tree was used for this winter festival and decorated with apples symbolizing the forbidden fruit. The play ended with the promise of the coming Savior. Wafers were also hung from the tree symbolizing the forgiveness of sins in communion making it now not just the tree of knowledge but also the tree of life. This resulted in a very old European custom of decorating a fir tree in the home with apples and small white wafers representing the Holy Eucharist at Christmas time. These wafers were later replaced by little pieces of pastry cut in the shapes of stars, angels, hearts, flowers, and bells. In some areas the custom, was still to hang the tree upside down.
In addition to the paradise tree, many German Christians set up a Christmas Pyramid called a Lichstock – a open wooden frame with shelves for figurines of the Nativity covered with evergreen branches and decorated with candy, pastry, candles, and a star. The star represented the star of Bethlehem, the candles represented the light of Christ coming into the world, the evergreens were the symbol of eternal life, and the candy, fruits, and pastries, the goodness of our life in Christ, the fruits of the spirit, etc. By the seventeenth century the Lichstock and the “Paradise Tree” became merged into the modern Christmas tree.
Luther’s Christmas Tree
There is a popular tradition that Martin Luther was walking on a bright snow-covered, star-lit night pondering the birth of Christ. Enthralled by the evergreen trees, the stars and the landscape, he took a tree inside and put candles on it to represent the majesty he felt about Christ’s birth as Jesus came down from the stars to bring us eternal life.
The Moravian Christmas Tree
In the 1700s, Moravian missionaries brought the tradition of the Christmas tree to the United States. They would build a wooden frame and decorate it with greenery from spruce, fir, and pine trees. They would set candles on the wooden shelves symbolizing that Christ is the light of the world and would hang verses on the tree showing that Christ is the Word of God. Under the tree, they would place a putz, an elaborate nativity including many scenes from the Bible. On Christmas day, the family would read the verses to each other. I used this tradition in my story, A Christmas Promise, about Moravian missionaries in Schoenbrunn Village, Ohio.
A Moravian Holiday Story, Circa 1773
During colonial times, John and Anna settle in an Ohio village to become Moravian missionaries to the Lenape. When John is called away to help at another settlement two days before Christmas, he promises he’ll be back by Christmas Day.
When he doesn’t show up, Anna works hard to not fear the worst while she provides her children with a traditional Moravian Christmas.
Through it all, she discovers a Christmas promise that will give her the peace she craves.
Pelican Book Group