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Intersection of Life and Faith

The Adventure of Christmas: The Christmas Tree

  • Lisa Whelchel Author, actress, homeschooling mother of three
  • 2004 11 Nov
  • COMMENTS
The Adventure of Christmas:  The Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree

It is said that in the seventh century a zealous young English missionary was the first person to use the evergreen tree as a symbol for God.  Winfrid, who would later become known as Saint Boniface, used the tree as an object lesson.  He taught that each point on the triangular-shaped tree represented a different Person of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Legend has it that one day Winfrid came upon a group of men offering a sacrifice to an oak tree as an act of worship.  So angered was he by this idolatry that Winfrid swung his ax and felled the oak tree with one mighty blow.  According to the tale, a fir tree eventually grew from the stump of the oak.  Struck by this occurrence, the missionary proclaimed that the tiny new tree represented Jesus' victory over death on the cross and the eternal life made available to us by the King of kings.

The Christmas tree is a beautiful reminder of why Jesus was born in the first place – to die for you and me.  "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24, NIV).  As we put up the Christmas tree in our homes, it can only deepen our joy if we remember His Death at this time of His birth.  It is because He died for us that we can receive the eternal life represented by the evergreen boughs.

Have you ever noticed that the boughs of your tree extend out like the arms of Jesus stretched upon the cross as He offered His life to anyone who would come to Him in faith?  And your Christmas tree is very definitely pointing toward heaven and, as Jesus did with His words and His actions, drawing our attention to the Father who loves us.

So when you stand before your Christmas tree, stand tall, as the tree does, and be a witness for Jesus.  Let it direct your attention to the Father above.  Fix your eyes on Jesus, then open your arms wide to touch others with His Spirit of love.  Then you, too, will be pointing people toward heaven – and to life beyond the power of death.

Teachable Moments

  • "Why do you think the Christmas tree is the main holiday decoration?"
    (Talk about how it represents the tree Jesus died on, which is why He was born in the first place.)
  • "Can you find other ways the tree might remind us of Jesus?"
    (Point out the ways the tree illustrates Jesus.)
  • "Could we use the tree to tell other people about Jesus?"
    (Share the legend of Winfrid and the pagan worshipers.)

Animal Christmas Tree

Find a tree in a forest (or your backyard, if you live in the urban jungle) and decorate it for the animals.  String berries, pieces of fruit, and popcorn and drape them around the tree.  Poke pieces of bread and cake on the branches.  Hang birdseed bells or make your own by smearing peanut butter on empty toilet paper rolls and then rolling them in sunflower seeds and nuts.  Watch the animals feast away with your children.

Christmas Cone-ifer

What you'll need:

Sugar ice-cream cones
Green cake frosting
Miniature M&Ms

Directions:

Let your children spread the green frosting over the entire sugar cone.  Turn the cone upside down and decorate it with the miniature M&Ms.  Sing "O Christmas Tree" and then eat it!

Lights on the Tree

As the story goes, a professor named Martin Luther was walking alone through a forest one December night in the early 1500s.  As he made his way home, the stars seemed to twinkle with an unusual brightness against the velvety blackness of the clear night sky.  In fact, when he passed under the rustling branches of the evergreens, it seemed to him that miniature stars were dancing in the trees all around him.

It wasn't the sudden gust of cold wind that took the professor's breath away; it was the unexpected wave of worship that caused him to shiver.  Luther was overwhelmed by the awesome beauty of God's creation.

The legend goes on to tell how Luther chopped down a small fir tree and set it up in this family's living area.  He desperately wanted to somehow capture that moment in the starlit forest.  Yet as he attempted to describe the beauty he had seen, words completely failed him.

Suddenly Luther had an idea.  He went through his house and gathered up all the burning candles.  One by one, he carefully placed them on the branches of the tree, and the little fir in the middle of the Luther home began to dance with twinkling lights.  This wise papa's plan worked!  The Luther children's eyes were suddenly opened to the meaning of Psalm 19:1:  "The heavens tell of the glory of God.  The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship."

My Very Own Christmas Tree

Purchase a small Christmas tree and place it in your child's room.  Together string a strand of Christmas lights around the tree.  This will not only be her special tree but it will also act as a night-light during the holiday season.

Christmas Tree Cake with Flaming Stars

What you will need:

One 13 x 9-inch sheet cake (ready-made or purchased)
One cake board to display cake
Scissors
Green cake frosting
Cake knife for spreading frosting
Small amount of red and blue frosting
Sugar cubes
Small bottle of peppermint extract

Directions:

1. Transfer the sheet cake onto the cake board.  Trace a simple Christmas tree pattern on top of your cake and carefully cut away the surrounding cake.  Be careful not to damage the large cut-away pieces, because you are going to use them later.
2. Carefully frost the Christmas-tree cake with the green frosting.
3. Arrange the sugar cubes on the surface to look like lights on a tree.
4. Cut leftover cake into small square- and rectangular-shaped "boxes" and frost them with the red and blue frosting.
5. Pipe a frosting ribbon on the "gifts" to make them look like presents.  Arrange them around the bottom of the cake.
6. For a special effect, infuse each sugar cube with a few drops of the peppermint extract just prior to igniting.
7. Turn off lights and use a match to carefully ignite the extract on each "star," moving quickly from cube to cube.  Each star will burn with a pretty blue flame for about a minute.

Teachable Moments

  • "Who in the world came up with the idea of putting lights on a tree?"
       (Share the story of Martin Luther's evening walk through the forest.)
  • "Do you think it might have been dangerous to put candles on a tree?"
    (Talk about how to be safe during the holidays by keeping the tree watered and not playing with candles or electric lights.)
  • "When you look at the stars in the sky, what do you think about?"
    (End the conversation by teaching your child that we can learn a lot about God, the Creator of the world, by looking at His creation.)

Ornaments on the Tree

In medieval Europe, plays were performed throughout the year based on the lives of Bible characters.  December 24 was declared Adam and Eve's Day and the setting of this day's drama was the Garden of Eden.  Remember what happened?  The serpent tempted Eve to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit.  And she did.  The play ended with God sending Adam and Eve out of paradise as a consequence of their sin.

There was only one minor problem in staging this drama:  finding a fruit tree in winter!  Some Renaissance stage director must have discovered that with a little smoke and mirrors, he could turn a pine tree strung with apples into the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  This "costumed" tree delighted the audience and became the star of the show.

The decorated evergreen delighted audiences, even upstaging the actors.  Years after the medieval plays were no longer performed, German families continued to decorate their own evergreens with shiny red apples on December 24 and to call them "paradise trees."

Through the years, the decorations became more and more elaborate.  Mothers hid gingerbread cookies in the branches.  Nuts dipped in sugar were nestled among the pine needles.  Fruits and vegetables formed from marzipan candy hung from the boughs.  The family Christmas tree became so sugar-coated, it was often appropriately referred to as the "sugar tree."

But no matter how sweet the treats, the most important ornaments were tiny round wafers of bread hidden among the other decorations.  These thin biscuits represented the body of Christ that was broken on the cross for our sins.  And so hidden among the forbidden fruit, through which death entered the world, were signs of Jesus Christ, the One who gives us eternal life.

As we decorate our Christmas tree we should be reminded of Romans 5:19 – "Because one person [Adam] disobeyed God, many people became sinners.  But because one other person [Jesus] obeyed God, many people will be made right in God's sight."

No-Bake Spiced Dough Ornaments

This is a fun and safe craft to make with your child.  Kids love getting their hands all messy.  Just remind them that they can't lick their fingers.  (Unless, of course, your tot has been talking nonstop and you think the glue might bring a little peace and quiet.)

1 cup ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1 cup applesauce
2 tablespoons white craft glue
Food coloring (optional)
A few tablespoons of all-purpose flour

Directions:

1. Combine the cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg in a mixing bowl. 
2. Add the applesauce and glue.
3. Have your child help you work in all the ingredients with your hands until ingredients are mixed thoroughly.
4. If desired, divide into portions and mix a few drops of food coloring into each. 
5. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to approximately ¼-inch thickness. 
6. Cut dough with cookie cutters into various shapes.
7. Bore a hole in the top of each ornament (a drinking straw works well for this).
8. Lay the ornaments out flat to dry at room temperature for 3 to 5 days, turning over often.  (If you or your child runs out of patience, you can always speed up the process by popping these in a 200°F oven for 1 hour.)
9. When they are completely dry, thread short lengths of ribbon or string through the hole in each ornament.

Teachable Moments

  • "What in the world would make a person hang things all over a tree?"
    (Tell your children about the medieval plays and the very first "paradise tree.")
  • "Some of our family ornaments look good enough to eat.  Did you know that a long time ago you really could eat the ornaments?"
    (Describe some of the ornaments that moms used to hang on the "sugar tree.")
  • "Why do you think moms would hang little bread crackers on the tree along with all the yummy goodies?"
    (Explain that at the very first "communion," or "Eucharist," Christ referred to the bread as Hi body broken on the cross for our salvation.)


Excerpted from "The Adventure of Christmas" © 2004 by Lisa Whelchel.  Used by permission of Multnomah Publishers, Inc.  Excerpt may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of Multnomah Publishers, Inc.

Lisa Whelchel is best known for her role as Blair on the long-running television comedy "The Facts of Life."  Now a homeschooling mother, speaker and pastor's wife, she is the bestselling author of "Creative Correction", "The Facts of Life and Other Lessons My Father Taught Me", and "So You're Thinking About Homeschooling."  Lisa and her husband Steve, are the cofounders of MomTime Ministries.  They live in Texas with their children, Tucker, Haven, and Clancy.