From: T.M. Schoewe
We have taken the Christmas tree for granted. How did this tree come to be used in connection with our Savior’s birth? “Who invented the Christmas tree?”
First, it predates the Christian era and was especially used in the Germanic area of Europe during the winter solstice as the sun moved us into a new year. It was a cut tree with lighted candles for several centuries. This Tannenbaum (“fur tree”) came to be associated with Martin Luther and many Catholics in Germany disclaimed it and called Protestantism the “Tannenbaum religion.” Even the Vatican, as late as 1930, recommended using the Nativity or manger scene for Christian decoration instead of a tree. Now the Vatican sees no conflict and Christmas Eve in St. Peter’s square features both a life-sized Nativity scene and a towering Christmas tree.
Around 1850, under the German- born Prince Albert, the tree was introduced in England and replaced the English stocking. And due to the German immigration in the mid-19th Century the Christmas tree made inroads in America. Although most people called it the “Happy Tree,” the New York Times denounced it as a “lifeless corpse” which dripped “melted wax” on the carpet and made people who were nervous fear fire. The Times said it “should have no place in our beloved land.”
In spite of the “stocking stuffers,” Americans took to the Christmas tree with greater enthusiasm than the Germans. Soon the U.S. exported the tradition and it now is seen around the world. Sometimes it was associated with Christianity but even in Japan the tree and other Christian trimmings were incorporated into their gift-giving culture.
Today, petty conflicts try to spoil the joy of a Christmas tree. Last year the little state of Rhode Island declared it should be called the “Holiday Tree.” What states will follow? Even environmentalists and tree farmers are at battle. Which has the largest footprint? Millions of living trees massacred and destined for the curbside, or the petroleum-based artificial trees shipped from China then trucked across the country?
As a matter of faith, my recollection of the Christmas tree goes back to around 1921. It was in a large brick church, a tree about 20-25 ft. in height with just simple candles lit, whose light was flickering in the darkness. Before the brown paper bags beneath the tree were filled with an apple or orange and a variety of hard candies and peanut brittle and distributed by the church elders, the pastor reminded us that the light from the candles represented or were to remind us of Christ, Who said He was the light of the world, our Savior from sin and death.
Can you imagine what such a Christmas tree meant to people down through the ages who were without this invention we call “electricity?” So some called it Happy Christmas. After Christmas services they would take their trees to the village square, set them on fire and dance around the sparkling blaze singing songs of joy.
We might also look at the GREEN tree as a reminder of that tree in the garden, by which men fell from God’s grace, and be reminded of the Light of the world, Who hung on the tree of the cross to deliver us all from sin, death and hell. Happy Christmas!