As I enter the Christmas season, I’m once again struck by the memories that have accumulated over the years. This is my 67th Christmas and as I think back, I have memories of at least 62 of them. Every year the time of Christmas was inaugurated in our home by the Christmas tree. That tree was, to my young eyes, huge and filled with wonder. My father would string the lights, and then our whole family would hang ornaments and other decorations on the tree. It simply wasn’t Christmas without the Christmas tree.
It was only this year that I discovered the legend of where the idea for the Christmas tree came about. I knew that the evergreen branch was a pagan symbol pointing to the anticipation of spring and the end to winter, but I had never heard of the story of St. Boniface and how his ministry led to the tradition. St. Boniface was called by God to take the Gospel to pagan Germany in the 700’s AD. He was quite successful and thousands were baptized and began to follow after Christ. During one year, Boniface led a group of evangelizing monks to the German town of Geismar, where every winter a human sacrifice, an infant, was made to Thor at the base of an immense oak tree. Boniface and his cohort came upon this ceremony, interrupted it, and then took an axe and cut down the oak in front of the astonished throng. After the oak was felled, Boniface pointed to a small fir tree growing just behind it. He said:
“This little tree.. shall be you holy tree tonight. It is the sign of endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in you own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.”
The Christmas tree is a reminder of eternity: that God became man and provided a way not just to live a better life, but to enjoy an eternal relationship with Him. So as you enter into this holiday season, let the traditions of Christmas be a reminder of how much we are loved by God, as well as a reminder to share that love with others.