By Fr. Simon Herbers, C.P.
Did you ever wonder why you cut down a little green tree, bring it into your home, decorate it with ornaments and lights at Christmas? You might say that we have always done it. Everyone does it. And besides trees are sold at Christmas time.
If you put up a tree this Christmas, before you pass out the gifts, have someone ask, “Why do we have a tree in the house tonight?” Have someone reply, “There is a tradition tht goes back more than a thousand years.” Have someone reply, “there is a tradition that goes back more than a thousand years.”
Then he or she might continue by sharing part of the oldest legend relating to the origin of the Christmas tree, as recorded by Henry Van Dyke, who wrote THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE.
It is a charming story of how St. Boniface brought Christianity from England to Germany. The work of Boniface was recognized by Pope Gregory II. He called Boniface to Rome, made him a Bishop and in the early 700’s sent him back to Germany. To his amazement, he found that the eldest son of the German Chieftain Gundhar was to be sacrificed to the pagan gods on Christmas Eve. The scene of the sacrifice was to be under a giant Oak tree dedicated to the got Thor, the god of thunder. Boniface wished to destroy this pagan symbol if only to prove that the pagan deity was powerless. After one stroke with the ax, a wind toppled the mighty oak.
The assembled throng was awed by what had happened and asked Boniface for the word of God. Pointing an evergreen, he replied: “This is the word and this is the counsel – Not a drop of blood shall fall tonight, for this is the birth-night of the Holy Christ, the son of the all Father, and Savior of the world. This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall e a home tree tonight. It is the wood of peace.
It is the sign of endless life, for the branches are ever green. See how it points toward Heaven! Let this be called the tree of the Christ Child; gather around it, not in the wild woods but in your homes; there it will shelter loving gifts and lights of kindness,”
The fir tree was cut and taken to Gundhar’s great hall where it was set up for the observance of Christmas, and this according to a beloved German legend, was the first Christmas tree. The evergreen remained one of the main symbols of Christmas for the Germans.