First of all, why an evergreen tree? Well, pagans (non-Christians) had a tradition of decorating evergreen trees at the feast of the winter solstice. They believed the evergreen tree was a sign that winter would end. For Christians, evergreen trees symbolize everlasting life. As we read in Genesis 2, “Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground – trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life” (Genesis 2:8-9). (Notice also the needles of evergreen trees point up to heaven.)
No can say for certain who was first, but there is a legend about the German Protestant reformer Martin Luther and the Christmas tree. It is said that one crisp Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, Luther was walking through snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. Martin cut down the tree and carried it home. He then set up the little fir tree indoors so he could share this story of everlasting life with his children. They decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth – the light of the world. John recounts in his gospel, “The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Jesus, Himself, later said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12).
There is an interesting Connecticut connection to the Christmas tree legend as well. You see, like Martin Luther’s Christmas tree, a number of our Christmas traditions originate in Germany. At the Revolutionary War Battle of Bennington, British forces, consisting largely of Hessian troops (German mercenaries) were defeated. Hundreds of the Hessian mercenaries were taken prisoner mostly to Boston, but one, a Hendrick Roddemore, ended up in the custody of Samuel Denslow on his 100-acre farm in Windsor Locks, CT. Denslow allowed Roddemore to live in a small cabin on his property what is now the current home of the Windsor Locks Historical Society, and in that small cabin in Windsor Locks in 1777, a German POW put up the first indoor Christmas tree in America.
As you put up your Christmas tree this year, remember the offer of everlasting life you have been given through the Christ child. During the week, when you come home and see the lights shining, reflect on the light of the world who gave His life so that you could be forgiven. After all, that is what Christmas is really all about. It is not about gifts, food, flying reindeer or a chubby, plump, jolly old elf. It is about the good news the angel announced that will bring great joy to all people, and that is, “The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12).
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