Living with meaningful traditions: The Christmas tree.

The munchkins encourage me to learn more about our traditions by asking all those little questions beginning with “Why…? In turn, explaining these traditions makes them meaningful rather than superficial and merely ornamental.

“Mom, why do we have Christmas trees that we decorate? When did it start? Who came up with the idea?”

The Christmas tree tradition stems from many different legends as they evolved in different places over time. Some say that an English monk named Saint Boniface, who organized the Christian Church in France and Germany during the 8th century, played a part. Legend has it that on a Christmas eve long ago, Boniface came upon a group of worshippers gathered around an oak tree preparing to sacrifice the son of their chief, little child Prince Asulf, to the god Thor. Boniface was horrified at the prospect of a child being sacrificed to appease a god, so he whacked the tree with an axe and managed to topple it. A small fir tree sprang up instantly in its place. Boniface told the awed spectators that this was the Tree of Life, representing Christ.

First Patrick strings the lights.

The tree is lit. Time for ornaments.

Max adds ornaments.

Others believe the tradition comes from a 10th century legend which held that amazing events occured when Christ was born- all the animals began to talk and every tree blossomed and bore fruit, despite the snow and winter cold. All the trees paid homage to the newborn king with the exception of a tiny fir tree from the north who was so insignificant in stature and appearance that the other trees tried to hide her. She had almost mustered a deep-green blush when the Lord intervened- stars tumbled from the heavens, lighted on the fir’s branches and illuminated them like a sparkling diamond necklace.

Still others say that a poor German forester welcomed a strange child into his cottage one cold and snowy Christmas eve, feeding the child and giving him a warm place to sleep. The next morning, the child, who was actually the Christ Child, caused a small, glittering fir tree to grow beside the forester’s door. The happy host took it inside to become the first Christmas tree.

Micah adds ornaments.

Milla goes back and removes all the ornaments added by Max and Micah.

Some very Protestant folks maintain that Martin Luther is responsible for the tradition of the Christmas tree. According to this legend, Luther was strolling through a snow-covered forest on Christmas eve and was deeply moved by the beauty of the starlight gleaming on the evergreen branches. He cut down a small fir tree, took it into his home and placed small lighted candles on its boughs to dazzle his wife and children with the same heavenly light that had dazzled him. Though no mention of this event can be found in Luther’s many writings, the legend became popular among German Protestants. As a result, some German Catholics resisted using a tree as part of their Christmas celebration until a century ago.

The children are attracted to the tree like moths to a window in the summer.

For more history of this tradition, the Christmas Archives has a neat, illustration-laden page.

Nothing left to do but lay under the tree and look up through her lights.

Milla got jealous because Patrick kissed me. She let out a yell and bopped him on the back. You can barely see it, but she is kissing me on the lips.

Do you have any special family tree traditions? Any stories or legends I can share with the munchkins? What does your tree mean to you when you put it up?