Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition by the 16th century when sources record devout Christians bringing decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if the wood was scarce.
It is widely believed that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. According to a common version of the story, walking home one winter evening, Luther was awed by the stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and decorated its branches with lighted candles.
Another legend says that in the early 16th century, people in Germany combined two customs practiced earlier in different countries around the globe. The Paradise tree (a fir tree decorated with apples) represented the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. The Christmas Light is a small, pyramid-like frame, usually decorated with glass balls, tinsel and a candle on top, symbolizing the birth of Christ as the Light of the World. Changing the tree’s apples to tinsel balls and cookies and combining this new tree with the light placed on top, the Germans created the tree many of us know today.
Our family trees
Like the history and evolution of a Christmas tree with unique traditions, meaningful decorations and cultural practices, our family trees are much the same: a collection of moments, people and experiences. How we celebrate, when we celebrate, our expectations, our responses, and even our taste in food, clothing and décor are birthed in the experiences of our childhood homes. Just as a Christmas tree is the whole of many parts: ornaments, lights and traditions, so is the family tree. Families can’t be understood in isolation but rather as a part of their extended family. Every family has a cast of characters with colorful personalities and stories. They matter; we see glimpses of ourselves in them, our talents, our tendencies and some of our troubles. When put together, our family tree creates our family portrait.
During this season, gather around your Christmas tree with family and friends and explore your family tree. Take time together and share the stories of special family memories. Tell your loved ones your stories of growing up, what your dreams were and are, share your story of coming to know Jesus, and write them down. You might not think your stories are significant, but it may be to a loved one later in life.
The gift of memories
Gifts under the tree are lovely, but I don’t remember what I received five years ago, much less ten years ago. But I remember our family driving to Georgia for Christmas with our grandparents. I remember the smell of my uncle’s cigar, the fireplace crackle, the men sitting together, reminiscing. Again, I don’t remember the gifts, but I still remember how I felt: a sense of belonging and love. This season give a gift of memories, a gift that helps us understand one another and connects us emotionally.
Ask and share the answer to a few questions:
- Tell us about your grandparents.
- Who were you close to growing up?
- Who was your best friend?
- What was your favorite Christmas memory?
- What was your favorite toy as a child?
- What was your first job?
- Tell us about your best birthday.
- What are three things that have brought you joy this year?
Not all our family stories are sweet, but neither was our Lord and Savior’s, Jesus Christ. Born to an unwed mother in a stable with an earthly stepfather, he grew up in a blended family with half brothers and sisters who thought he was crazy and a stepfather who probably died when he was a young man. He began a revolution and was left to die a horrific death on the cross. What didn’t appear significant to most at that time has changed the world and our place in eternity. None of our families are perfect. It’s where we come from; they shape us, but we must choose who we become. Jesus’s birth and death on the cross provided us the way to become a part of a shared legacy in His family tree.
What will your family story tell? If you haven’t chosen Jesus, will you choose Him now? Will you lead your family, spouse and children to a shared family legacy of intimately knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior this Christmas season? I encourage you to gather your family around your Christmas tree and read the Christmas story from the Book of Luke. Invite them to be a part of Jesus’ family tree, the tree of everlasting life.
Live the Life South Florida exists to strengthen marriages and families through healthy relationship education, beginning in middle school through senior adults. We are educators, coaches and pastoral counselors. If you’re looking for a clinical counselor or therapist, we are blessed to have many in the South Florida community. We’d be honored to provide you a list of highly qualified and reputable individuals. Visit livethelifesoflo.org