Our first Christmas tree as a newly-wed couple was oversized—laughably so. It was a 9-foot White Pine. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Michelle and I at the time lived in a teensy, two-bedroom, third-floor apartment. We pushed, pulled, grunted and snorted, dragging that gargantuan tree up three flights of stairs. When we finally clipped the plastic straps that were holding its branches tight, the enormous evergreen ERUPTED.
The tree top stretched upward bending over against the vaulted ceiling. Branches sprawled out in all directions, cramming every nook and cranny in our den, leaving no room for anyone to sit. Watching bowl games on TV that December was out of the question.
Nope, we hadn’t thought this one through. The few ornaments we had collected were all but lost among an expanse of greenery. Needles, sap and pine scent plagued our senses, not to mention the carpet. We made multiple trips to Walmart for strands of lights and glass ornaments, which we decorated with some glue and colorful glitter. Nostalgia dictates that we hang a few of those humble, homemade ornaments on our tree today to remind us of our first Christmas together, even though our children say they’re tacky.
We’ve learned. Our Christmas tree is now an artificial one—much easier to maneuver, less space consuming, and non-allergenic. But, it is none-the-less special to us. Last evening, I sat alone, contemplating the tree’s real beauty—not the twinkling lights and glittering trimmings, but the sentimental significance behind many of its ornaments.
Yes, angels, crosses, stars and nativity scenes adorn our tree, all testifying to the reason for the season. But other branches display representations of God’s blessings of family; our tree has become a celebration of fun times spent together.
High up hang ornaments of a lighthouse that Laura and I climbed together in St. Augustine; a red barn depicting the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, where she went off to college; a spiderweb-framed picture of Caleb from a visit to Universal Studios in Orlando; and a blue and white airplane because Caleb is studying aviation in hopes of becoming a pilot someday.
A little lower down is a red and blue cowboy hat from San Antonio, a pink-tinted glass ball with a beach scene in Puerto Rico, a red crab-shaped jingle bell representing Baltimore’s famed seafood, a marching drum and fife corp from Williamsburg, and a horse-drawn carriage of the Queen in London.
Toward the bottom are more humorous ones—a teddy bear in a tutu from Laura’s dance days; a green sea-horse named Seamore for the children’s stories that Michelle and I wrote together; a tent with a “Happy Campers” banner from our adventures in the great outdoors; a gator in bathing trunks from Florida vacations; a NASCAR race car of Caleb’s favorite driver; Santa whale watching in Hawaii; and the Grinch wearing a Santa outfit (I’m not saying who that one represents).
According to an article that appeared in Christianity Today, “Why do we have Christmas trees?”, one legend credits Protestant Reformer Martin Luther with beginning the tradition of indoor Christmas trees. As the tale goes, one winter night before Christmas, Luther was walking through the forest and looked upward. Awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst the evergreens, he was reminded of Jesus, the Light of the World, who came from heaven to earth at Christmastime. To recapture the experience for his family, he erected a candle-lighted tree inside his home.
But the Christianity Today article theorizes that the Christ-mas tree tradition more likely started with the medieval plays, which often depicted biblical stories. The earliest Christmas trees (or evergreen branches) may have been called “paradise trees” and were adorned with pastry wafers that symbolized the Eucharist. These wafers eventually were replaced by cookie ornaments, apples and nuts decorating Christmas trees in Germany.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, some churches began set-ting up Christmas trees in their sanctuaries. “Alongside the tree often stood wooden ’pyramids’—stacks of shelves bearing candles, sometimes one for each family member,” the article explains. “Eventually these pyramids of candles were placed on the tree, the ancestors of our modern Christmas tree lights and ornaments.” German and Dutch immigrants would bring the tree tradition to America in the early 1800s, which was soon adopted as the center of many family festivities at Christmas.
Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the fact that God saw fit for Jesus, the son of God, to be born into an earthly family, Mary and Joseph’s, and even had (half) brothers and sisters. Wonder what that would have been like—sharing family life with Jesus? At Christmas, we gather to celebrate the babe born in Bethlehem. But the Good News is that tiny babe grew in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man—nurtured by a family—and one day became the Savior of the World. This Christmas, as we gather ’round the tree, take time to wonder, praising God for His Gift of a Savior … and for His blessing of a godly family with whom to share and celebrate life together.