Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Everyday Grace: Blessing the family Christmas tree
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the Dec. 18, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
The Christmas tree is one of the most beloved holiday traditions and has the potential to evoke ancient and powerful symbolism. With its fresh scent, bright lights, and beautiful texture and shape, a Christmas tree appeals to our senses and taps into our yearnings for hope and the promise of joy.
Is it possible to improve upon the Christmas tree? Probably not. But we can get caught up in meaningless glitz and so become busy we forget to enjoy simple pleasures. Take time to gather the family round the tree this season for prayer, games or stories and you’ll deepen your experience of Christmas.
Some evidence suggests the roots of O Tannenbaum stretch back 7,000 years to the ancient Egyptians, who believed evergreens symbolized the triumph of life over death. They marked the winter solstice by bringing green date palm leaves into their homes. Later the Romans also celebrated the shortest day of the year by decorating their houses with greens and lights. Similarly, the druids used evergreen branches in winter solstice rituals and placed boughs over doors to protect against evil spirits.
Martin Luther is known as the father of our modern Christmas tree tradition. According to legend, one Christmas Eve as he walked through the forest he was struck by the beauty of the snow-covered fir trees sparking in the starlight. He chopped one down, brought it home and decorated it with candles, wanting to inspire his family.
Eventually the custom spread to the New World – some say, brought by Hessian troops during the American Revolution. It was not universally accepted, however. Puritans in New England banned decorating trees and all other Christmas frivolity. Such attitudes remained in strict Christian circles into the late 1800s, but by the turn of the century one in five American homes had a Christmas tree. This year between 35 and 40 million families in the United States will light up a holiday tree.
Here are some ideas for enriching your family Christmas tree traditions.
Before you select your tree check out what Scripture says about trees.
Hints: Genesis 2:9, Psalm 96:12-13, Isaiah 11:1-2, Acts 10:39, Revelation 22:2
Ask the children ahead of time to write a blessing for the tree, perhaps one line each. Or you may use the blessing below.
Check your library or local bookstore for the picture book The Three Trees. This story by Angela Elwell Hunt is appreciated by all ages.
Sing carols or share family stories of Christmas past. Children love to hear about how they acted when they were babies or toddlers.
Play “I Spy.” One person spies something on the tree and names the color. Others guess until someone gets it right. Make sure everyone gets a chance to spy and guess.
It may be a good idea to plan your blessing the day after you bring the tree indoors and decorate it. Stubborn dysfunctional lights, gnarly tree trunks, missing stars, and emotional tree trimmers can thwart even the best-laid plans. The best time for the tree blessing is when family members are relaxed and in a positive and prayerful mood.
Begin by standing around the tree and raising a hand in blessing.
Reader: God of All Creation,
Join hands and sing ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ or a song your family enjoys. Serve a snack like sliced apples and cheese or graham crackers and hot cider. Choose one of the activities listed above or something your family particularly enjoys.
(Mary Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. She is a contributing author to the new book Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions, from Skylight Paths Publishing.)