Christmas Message for 2021
“OH CHRISTMAS TREE?” OR “PARADISE TREE?”
One of the joys that Val and I look forward to each year is the decorating of our Christmas tree. For some time now, Val has collected antique Christmas tree ornaments dating from the 1945 – 1970 period. At that time, the majority of these were made of glass. For years, we sought to acquire an in-period Christmas star of Bethlehem. Finally one showed up on the internet and we were able to purchase it. Installing it, proved to be a bit of a challenge, but we were finally able to secure it at the top of the tree! When this happened, everyone in our household celebrated! Even the members of the family that are of the feline persuasion joined in!
The Christmas tree has been a tradition that has brought beauty and awe into the celebration of the Birth of Christ. But, have we ever given much thought to its origin? Many Lutherans have credited Martin Luther with its invention, but as is often the case, history is a bit more complicated than tradition would suggest. It appears that the great reformer was not the inventor per say, but that he upheld a custom that goes back at least as far as the Middle Ages.
It has been suggested that early missionaries adopted a symbol that was already prevalent within the pre-Christian traditions of Germanic and Slavic Europe. Thus the legend emerged that when Christ was born in the dead of winter, every tree throughout the world miraculously shook off its ice and snow and produced new shoots of green. Trees also played a role in medieval Christmas plays. Since Christmas Eve fell on the feast day of Adam and Eve, the tree was associated with the “Paradise Tree.” However, as time wore on, these plays were banned since they had become a source of rowdiness.
However, people missed the “Paradise Tree” and so the custom emerged of bringing it indoors. The earliest Christmas trees were referred to as “paradises.” They were often decorated with round pastry wafers symbolizing the Eucharist. These developed into the decorated Christmas cookies that we love today! The custom which connects gifts and trees was actually due to the influence of Queen Victoria and her much loved husband Prince Albert. The prince was a native of Saxony. German immigrants had brought the custom of Christmas trees with them in the early 1800s, but it spread widely and quickly!
I believe that Christmas trees have gained added significance during the Covid lock-downs of the last two years. The curtailment of so many of our cherished Christmas functions and gatherings, has led to an increased interest in decorating the home with the traditional symbols of the season. The home has regained its status as the center of celebration. As a result, the Christmas tree has become the center-piece, par excellence.
As with every other house of worship in this world, our Christmas celebrations at Heidelberg-Erbsville parish are still subject to the vagaries of the pandemic. However, the “reason for the season” has not changed. Regardless of whether we gather in-person or on-line, the event is still the same – God’s decision to step into the world that He created, God’s decision to bring a little bit of paradise into the world, a paradise that offers new hope to a broken world.
At this juncture, Val and I would like to extend a heart-felt “thank you” for the times that we shared both in-person or on-line! It is our hope and prayer that you will enjoy a safe and blessed celebration of the Christ Child.
Pastor Olaf Poulsen