There are many legends about the origin of the Christmas Tree. All of them seem to agree that the evergreen tree had been an important symbol in a number of pagan cultures, long before Christianity, because it represented the power of life to outlast the darkest days of winter.
It was Christians in Germany who seem to have adapted the ancient tradition during the time of the Protestant Reformation, affirming it as a key symbol of the meaning of Christmas in place of the Roman Catholic emphasis on the Nativity scene, which focused on the Virgin Mother. They emphasized its continuity with the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve first sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. Now, because of the coming of Jesus Christ as mankind’s God-appointed Savior, sinful humans can be reconnected with God and with the renewed hope of Eternal Life.
According to some traditions, the first “decorations” to be hung on Christmas Trees were wafers made to look like those eaten in Communion Services to represent a believer’s receiving of the broken Body of Christ. This was to be a reminder of the price Jesus paid for the salvation of sinful humans.
It wasn’t long before the wafer-decorations began to be replaced by cookies, which were a lot tastier. From then on, all sorts of other decorations were added: strings of popcorn, tinsel, candles, stars and balls.
This sort of sums up Christmas traditions for me: from Communion wafers to cookies, from God’s Salvation-Gift to all sorts of sparkly materialistic thing-gifts. It’s hard to appreciate the wafer when there are so many cookies around.
There’s a story I read somewhere about five-year-old Davey’s first Christmas pageant. He had a minor part as a shepherd, but he was having trouble finding the spot on the stage where he was supposed to stand. His teacher tried to help him and his fellow-shepherds by marking Xs on the floor as a guide. Once Davey found his X, the rehearsals went OK.
But on the night of the performance, things were different; the kids were all dressed in uniforms for the parts they played. The angels — all girls a little older than Davey — wore glorious, flowing sequined dresses, and they were really into their parts. Davey got totally lost; he couldn’t find his mark. The teacher tried to direct him from backstage, but that didn’t help. Finally, in frustration, Davey cried out, loud enough for the entire audience to hear him:
“The angels are covering up the crosses!”
Angels can be beautiful, but the Cross is much more awesome.
Cookies taste great, but wafers point to a Christmas truth far greater.
“Lord, help me to desire a Wafer Christmas more than a Cookie Christmas.”
– Pastor George Van Alstine