The Christmas Tree
Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition, as we now know it, in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if trees were scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.
In 1846, the popular royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at court immediately became fashionable. The Christmas tree had arrived.
Selection from The Queen’s Broadcast:
At this time of year, few sights evoke more feelings of cheer and goodwill than the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree.
The popularity of a tree at Christmas is due in part to my great-great grandparents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. After this touching picture was published, many families wanted a Christmas tree of their own, and the custom soon spread. …
It is true that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
At the end of that War [WWII], the people of Oslo began sending an annual gift of a Christmas tree for Trafalgar Square. It has five hundred lightbulbs and is enjoyed not just by Christians but by people of all faiths, and of none. At the very top sits a bright star, to represent the Star of Bethlehem.
The custom of topping a tree also goes back to Prince Albert’s time. For his family’s tree, he chose an angel, helping to remind us that the focus of the Christmas story is on one particular family.
For Joseph and Mary, the circumstances of Jesus’s birth – in a stable – were far from ideal, but worse was to come as the family was forced to flee the country. It’s no surprise that such a human story still captures our imagination and continues to inspire all of us who are Christians, the world over.
Despite being displaced and persecuted throughout his short life, Christ’s unchanging message was not one of revenge or violence but simply that we should love one another. Although it is not an easy message to follow, we shouldn’t be discouraged; rather, it inspires us to try harder: to be thankful for the people who bring love and happiness into our own lives, and to look for ways of spreading that love to others, whenever and wherever we can.
One of the joys of living a long life is watching one’s children, then grandchildren, then great-grandchildren, help decorate the Christmas tree.
The customary decorations have changed little in the years since that picture of Victoria and Albert’s tree first appeared, although of course electric lights have replaced the candles.
There’s an old saying that “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”.
There are millions of people lighting candles of hope in our world today. Christmas is a good time to be thankful for them, and for all that brings light to our lives.See: The Christmas Message: Queen Elizabeth II describes the significance of Christmas The Christmas Message – to last Christmas – PDF
See also Christmas Worship