How to represent the gospel in the Christmas tree tradition
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
The Christmas tree tradition originated in Germany, apparently from several traditions, some pagan, some Christian. Some German towns brought an evergreen tree to the town square on Christmas Eve, set it on fire, and danced around it. Later these towns put lighted candles on Christmas trees. Other Germans remembered Adam and Eve’s fall into sin by hanging apples on an evergreen, and then hanging wafers for the bread of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and candles on the tree for Jesus as the light of the world. As the feast of Adam and Eve was on December 24, this also became associated with Christmas. These traditions merged into the Christmas tree as we know it today.
A tree is mentioned by the prophet Isaiah when foretelling the coming of the Christ. Jesus, our Messiah, is prophesied in Isaiah 11:1 as the descendant of Jesse, father of King David: “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” This “tree” also died on a tree for us: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds.” (1 Peter 2:24). That tree was the cross, where Jesus took our sins. So today, we can let the Christmas tree represent the gospel by putting Christian symbols on the tree, such as an angel or star on top, a manger scene underneath. Some Christians put a nail with a purple ribbon on the tree, reminding us that Jesus, the king of kings, was nailed to the tree of Calvary for us.
The history of Christmas lights
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Ever since the star of Bethlehem led the wise men to baby Jesus, Christmas has been associated with lights. For centuries, Christmas lights meant lighting candles.
Lights on trees
The tradition of putting up Christmas lights began with putting candles on Christmas trees. Christmas trees originated in Germany by the 16th century, from several different traditions. Some Germans actually burned an evergreen tree in the town square and danced around it. There is a popular legend that Martin Luther, the German Protestant reformer, began the tradition of putting candles on Christmas trees. The legend says that one crisp Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, he was walking through snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share this story with his children. He decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth.
Whether or not this is true, we know that the Advent wreath was invented in 1839 by Johann Henrich Wichern, a Protestant pastor who worked with the urban poor in Germany. The children would ask every day if Christmas had arrived, so Wichern built a ring with evergreen and candles to candles to light the 24 days in December before Christmas, and large candles to mark the Sundays. Later this was simplified to four candles for the four Sundays, and a Christ candle in the middle for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The custom of lighting an Advent candle did not spread to America until a century later, in the 1930s.
Origin of electric Christmas lights
On December 22, 1882, Edward H. Johnson, vice president of the Edison Electric Light Company, displayed his Christmas tree with 80 red, white and blue electric lights bulbs the size of walnuts, at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City. This was the first time a Christmas tree had been illuminated with electric lights, but the idea spread quickly. Three years later, the White House Christmas tree was covered with electric lights. By the early 19th century, it became popular to put lights on buildings, not just on Christmas trees. In the 1960s, with the construction of so many subdivisions in American communities, it became the custom in American neighborhoods for many families to cover their houses with lights. This custom has spread around the world, and is particularly popular in Japan.
Today, Christmas lights cover waterfronts, caverns, skyscrapers and shopping centers. Some even use synchronized timers to have their lights flash to music. May each light remind us of a star long ago that led to Jesus, the Light of the world!