Just how powerful a symbol is the Christmas tree? The four stories in the following article answer that question in a meaningful and entertaining manner. They offer explanations for the origin of Christmas trees and for the lights that now customarily adorn them every yuletide season.
These stories also impart important lessons: Any Christmas tree, given the right kind of attention, can be perfect, and even humble things take on exalted meaning in the eyes of Christ.
Here are summaries of our four Christmas tree stories:
- "The First Christmas Tree"Did you know that an oak was the inspiration for the first Christmas tree? In this informative story, we learn how an eighth-century monk named Boniface chopped down an oak tree to prove an important religious point, and ended up viewing a small fir sapling as a miracle.
- "The First Christmas Tree Lights"Ever wonder about the origin of Christmas tree lights? This story tells how Martin Luther changed the Christmas tree tradition with the addition of lights, the result of his frightening walk through the dark woods. It reveals the fascinating fact that Christmas trees were originally hung upside down, without lights.
- "The Perfect Tree"This delightful story is told from the perspective of a small, unremarkable tree that worries whether it will be suitable for Christmas. Through the inspired care of a family, it fills the bill perfectly. Try reading this uplifting tale to a child -- it will teach him or her some valuable lessons about caring for others.
- "The Tale of Three Trees"What if Christmas trees could talk? What would they say? In this profound Christmas tale, three trees have grandiose hopes for their wood after they're harvested, and all three are disappointed -- temporarily. Eventually, they all play meaningful roles in the life of Jesus Christ. Make this inspirational story part of your family's Christmas tradition.
- "O Christmas Tree" Our collection of Christmas Tree Stories ends here with the story about a “special” Christmas tree everyone thought was too small. Read ‘O Christmas Tree’ to find out how this special tree turned into a bright, beautiful spectacle that would remain with one happy family forever.
'The First Christmas Tree'
Papa shook the snow from his scarf as he entered the doorway of his warm and cozy little house. Once inside he laid a small pine tree next to the door.
Gretchen's face lit up when she spotted the tree. "Papa! Our Christmas tree?"
Papa pulled off his scarf and coat. "Yes, this is our Christmas tree," he said.
Gretchen's eyes sparkled. "Where shall we put it?" she asked.
Mama looked up from the table where she was working with bits of colored paper, apples, and wafers.
Gretchen danced around the room. "It's almost Christmas," she said. "Shouldn't we decorate the tree?"
"Of course," said Mama. "Help me with these cuttings."
Gretchen plopped down at the table. Mama patiently showed her how to shape colored paper into beautiful hearts, roses, flowers, angels, and bells. Papa warmed himself by the fire as Mama and Gretchen fashioned lots of lovely, delicate ornaments.
"Why do we have Christmas trees?" asked Gretchen. "Who had the first one?"
Papa rubbed his beard as he spoke. "It's a custom. A custom that started long, long ago, right here in Germany."
"The first Christmas trees were not decorated at all," said Mama. "And they weren't pine trees."
"That's right," said Papa. "Long, long ago, in the 700s, a monk named Boniface chopped down an oak tree. He was angry because people thought the oak was sacred, and he wanted to show them they were wrong."
Gretchen frowned. "So an oak was the first Christmas tree?" she asked.
"No, no," said Mama. "Let Papa finish his story."
"When the oak fell, it crushed everything in its path," said Papa. "Everything, that is, except a small fir sapling. Boniface said the survival of the little sapling was a miracle. So, for many years after, people planted fir saplings to celebrate Christmas. They didn't bring trees inside and decorate them as we do now."
Mama stood up. "And now it's time to decorate this tree," she said.
Papa lifted the little pine onto the table by the window. Then he and Mama hung all the pretty paper cuttings, along with bright red apples and delicate wafers, from the pine's spindly branches.
When they finished, Gretchen stood back to admire it all. "What a beautiful custom," she said. Then she knelt before the window, folded her hands, and looked toward the sky. "Thank you, Boniface, for giving us that very first Christmas tree." -- By Suzanne Lieurance
What good is a Christmas tree without lights? Our next story, "The First Christmas Tree Lights," explains how these twinkly delights came to adorn Christmas trees everywhere. It's on the following page.
'The First Christmas Tree Lights'
It was a cold winter's afternoon in the dense German forest. Martin Luther did not notice the sun slowly setting and the sky growing dark. His thoughts were on the sermon he was preparing. The forest soon came alive with the night sounds of owls, wolves, and other wild creatures.
Martin Luther shivered. He pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders. Then he quickened his pace, saying a little prayer for comfort as he went.
The forest grew darker. Martin Luther scurried along, continuing to pray that he would not cross paths with a wild animal. He glanced up to see the night sky filled with tiny pricks of light, twinkling blue and silver. What could they be?
"Stars!" Martin Luther said suddenly, as he realized what he was seeing. "Lights from Heaven to guide and comfort me, just as a star led the Wise Men to the stable that first Christmas. What a splendid theme for my sermon."
Martin Luther smiled up at the twinkling sky. He was no longer afraid.
Feeling safer, Martin Luther looked around for a small tree he could take home for Christmas. He found a young fir tree, pulled it up, and dragged it with him through the forest.
At long last Martin Luther was safe at home. He quickly prepared the little fir tree, hoping to surprise his family.
"Hmmm," he said, as he noticed the triangle shaped candle holder on the table by the window.
Soon Martin Luther called his family in, so he could tell them about his long walk through the dark and dangerous forest. Everyone gasped at the sight of the little fir tree, for it was customary to hang Christmas trees upside-down from the ceiling beams and leave them undecorated. Yet, Martin Luther had placed this little tree upright in a pot, high on the table. The candles had been removed from the triangle shaped holder. Now, as the very first Christmas tree lights, they flickered from the tree's delicate branches -- just as the stars had flickered through the forest to guide Martin Luther.
The family gathered around as Martin Luther told them what had happened earlier that evening.
"Just as I was getting very frightened, I saw the stars twinkling through the trees as if God was saying, 'Don't be afraid, for I am with you.' And that's when I realized the theme for my sermon. God's light shines through the darkest night for everyone, but sometimes we have to look up to see it." -- By Suzanne Lieurance
The story on the next page, "The Perfect Tree," has a twist: It's told from the perspective of a little tree.
'The Perfect Tree'
"The big pine trees make the prettiest trees," the little pine says to himself.
It is Christmastime in the forest, and all the trees are excited about the season. Their thick branches are covered with blankets of snow -- all the branches except for the little pine's, that is.
"Who would want such a little tree with such thin branches?" he says.
"Don't worry," says the biggest spruce in the forest, "someone will think you're special."
"All trees are special," chirps a little bird, sitting on a snowy bough.
But the little pine isn't so sure. His branches droop a little.
"Hey, wait for me!" calls Sarah. "I want to pick the tree this year!"
Her brother David scoops up some soft snow and makes a snowball.
"Not if I get there first," he shouts, throwing the snowball at a lamppost.
Dad and Mom follow as the family starts out on a snowy walk to the forest.
"Remember," says Mom, "it can't be too broad, or it won't fit through the door."
"And it can't be too tall," says David, "or it will scrape the ceiling."
"We'll know the perfect tree when we see it," says Sarah.
Soon the family arrives at the forest. The trees can't wait to see which tree will be picked.
The children race right past the giant spruce trees. They stop at the little pine.
"This one!" decides Sarah.
"Yeah! It's perfect!" says David.
The children dance around the little pine.
"Hmm," says Mom, "it's not too broad."
"And it won't scrape the ceiling," says Sarah.
"Looks just right to me," says Dad.
"See," says the biggest spruce, "someone thinks you're special already."
"They can't mean me," says the little pine. "Look at my thin little branches."
Dad examines the tree closely. "The trunk isn't very broad. It'll be easy to cut," he says.
"Be careful," says Mom.
"I'll be very careful," says Dad. "I won't hurt our tree a bit."
Dad begins to saw the bottom of the little pine's trunk.
"What beautiful, straight branches," says Mom. "Such a lovely little tree."
"See? They don't think your branches are skinny," says the biggest spruce. "They think you're special."
The little pine still drooped. "They think I'm special now. But wait 'til they get me home."
Once the little pine is cut, Dad carefully wraps it with twine.
"The twine makes sure the branches won't bend and break off," he tells the children.
David and Dad lead the way home with their new tree tied securely onto the sled.
"Where will we put the tree?" asks David.
"In front of the window," says Mom, "so everyone can see our perfect little tree."
"The decorations will be so beautiful!" Sarah says. "Our tree will be the best one ever!"
"I hope the decorations look right on my skinny little branches," the little pine thinks. "I don't want to disappoint my new family."
At home, Dad and David make a tree stand for the little pine. Dad puts a bowl of water at the bottom for the tree's trunk.
"What's that for?" asks David.
"To give the tree a drink," says Dad. "We need to take care of our perfect little tree."
Sarah and Mom watch as Dad and David get everything ready.
"Look," says Sarah. "People can see our tree from both front windows."
"You're right," says Mom. "Everyone will get to admire our beautiful tree."
"Oh, no," thought the little pine. "Everyone will see how silly the decorations look on me!"
Mom gets up from her chair. "Time to start decorating," she says.
"What can we do?" Sarah and David ask.
"Start with these," says Mom, scooting some boxes near the tree. Inside the box are brightly colored ornaments of all shapes and sizes.
"Ooh, they are so shiny," says Sarah.
"Some of them were Grandma's favorite ornaments," says Mom.
"What a lucky tree," says David, "to wear such special ornaments."
"I'll place the angel on the top," says Dad.
The little pine is worried the angel will not be able to balance on his thin top branches.
David and Sarah hang shiny ornaments on the little pine's branches until the boxes are empty. Mom wraps the tree with garlands of red ribbon. The angel that Dad placed atop the highest branch proudly watches over everything.
"Isn't it the most beautiful tree you have ever seen?" asks Sarah.
"It certainly is," says Dad.
"How lucky we were to find such a special tree," says David.
The little pine perks up. "The family isn't disappointed. Maybe the big spruce trees were right."
David glances out the window. "Look!" he says. "It's snowing!"
"This is the perfect Christmas," says Mom.
The little pine stands proud and straight. "The big spruce trees were right," he thinks. "Being special doesn't always mean being the biggest or the most beautiful. In the forest, I thought that I was a scrawny little pine. But now I know that I truly am special." -- By Suzanne Lieurance
Our next story is a stirring parable of how humble -- even disappointing -- circumstances can become exalted in the context of Christ and Christmas. See "The Tale of Three Trees" on the following page.
'The Tale of Three Trees'
Three little trees stood high upon a mountain discussing their dreams for the future. The first little tree looked up at the dazzling night sky and said, "I want to carry the treasure of kings and queens. I want to be beautiful. I want to be filled with all the riches in the world."
The nearby stream caught the second little tree's eye. "I want to be a mighty sailing vessel," he said. "I want to sail in the roaring oceans, roam the high seas, and deliver kings and queens safely to their destinations."
The third little tree loved the mountaintop. "I want to stay right here and grow and grow and grow," she said. "I want the people that pass by to look at me touching heaven and think of God."
One day, many years later, three lumberjacks came to help the three trees with the next season of their lives.
The first tree, now beautiful, was cut down. "I will become the most beautiful treasure chest," he thought. "I will get to hold all of the world's riches."
The mighty second tree was cut down. "I will now sail the roaring oceans," thought the second tree. "I will be the mightiest of all sailing vessels."
The third tree, with her branches stretched toward heaven, was also cut down. Together with the other two trees, she was taken down the lovely hillside.
The first tree arrived at a carpenter's shop. The beautiful tree was aglow with excitement. But he wasn't made into a treasure chest. The skillful carpenter made the beautiful tree into an ordinary feeding trough.
The second tree was brought to a shipyard. The mighty second tree thought, "Now I will be the most vigorous of vessels." But the strong second tree was made into a simple little fishing boat.
The third tree was brought to a lumberyard. There she was made into beams and put aside. "Why did this happen?" thought the third tree. "All I ever wanted was to touch heaven."
As the weeks passed, their dreams began to fade from memory. However, one magical night brought the first tree's dream to life. A young mother put her newborn into the trough. "This manger is perfect," said the mother to her husband. And the first tree knew he was cradling the most important treasure ever.
One night the fishing boat was used by a tired traveler and his friends. They quickly fell asleep, and the small boat floated out to sea. The sea became rough, and a thunderstorm was brewing. This frightened the second tree. If only he were a mighty vessel and could withstand the force of the storm! The traveler was awakened by the storm, and he stretched out his arms and said, "Peace." The sea became calm and the thunderstorm vanished. It was then that the second tree realized he was carrying the Almighty King.
On a Friday morning, the third tree was taken by soldiers and carried through a hostile mob. She trembled with fear and distaste as a man's hands were nailed to her. But the following Sunday the sun rose. The earth was full of joy. She realized that everything had changed because of God's love.
The first tree was made beautiful.
The second tree was made mighty.
The third tree made people think of God.
Our collection of Christmas Tree Stories ends with the story about a “special” Christmas tree everyone thought was too small. Read ‘O Christmas Tree’ to find out how this special tree turned into a bright and beautiful spectacle that would remain with one happy family forever.
'O Christmas Tree'
Jenny said, “Just think. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve!” Jenny and Matt and Michelle were excited. Today they were going with their father to buy the Christmas tree. “I know just what kind of tree we should have,” said Jenny. “A tree tall enough to touch the ceiling. That would be perfect.”
“No,” said Matt. “Our tree should be big and wide. That’s more important than tall.” “What I think,” said Michelle, “is that it should be the most special tree ever!” Mother smiled. “You’re right about that, Michelle,” she said. “We all want it to be the most special tree ever.”
Then Father said, “All right, let’s get going!” Jenny and Matt and Michelle hurried to put on their coats and mittens, bundling up against the winter wind. It was a long way to the Christmas tree lot. “Look in that store window,” said Jenny when they got to town. “I see a toy shop with elves making toys.” “And I see Rudolph and the other reindeer in that one!” cried Matt.
Michelle looked, too, but she had other things on her mind. She was searching for the Christmas tree lot. It seemed to take forever to get there. But Father finally said, “Well, here we are.” Michelle was the first to run over to the fence. Jenny quickly spotted the tree she wanted. She picked out a very tall, thin pine. “This is the one,” she said.
But Matt said, “Here is a better one.” He pointed to a short, wide tree with full branches. None of the Christmas trees seemed right to Michelle. Then, in a corner of the lot, she saw a scraggly little tree that seemed to say, “Please pick me. I want to be your tree.” “Here is the one I want,” called Michelle. The others came over.
At first they laughed at such a small tree, but finally Father said, “All right. If you insist, this is the one it will be.” When they got home, Mother was surprised to see such a small tree. “Michelle insisted,” said Father with a smile, “so here it is.” Just then, Grandma and Grandpa arrived. “Now we can all decorate the tree together,” said Matt.
Jenny made a special string out of beads she had been saving. She wound them around the tree’s branches. Matt hung the special toy soldier ornament he had made at school. And Michelle put her angel doll at the very top. Grandma said, “Your tree is a bit small, but you have made it look beautiful. I can see why you love it so. I think it’s a special tree, too.”
The next night, Christmas Eve, everyone gathered around the tree to sing:
O Christmas tree! O Christmas tree!
Your leaves are faithful ever!
O Christmas tree! O Christmas tree!
Your leaves are faithful ever!
Not only green when summer glows,
But in the winter when it snows,
O Christmas tree! O Christmas tree!
Your leaves are faithful ever!
As they sang, right before their eyes, the little tree became more and more beautiful. Lights twinkled from every branch, and its bright bulbs sparkled. The little tree seemed to be saying, “Look how beautiful I am, and how happy I am to be your Christmas tree!” The next morning was Christmas! When the family got up, the little tree was as beautiful as ever.
Santa had filled all their stockings and left presents under the tree. “Oh!” cried Jenny. “Look at this doll house. And it even has furniture inside!” Matt said, “This train engine is great! I can’t wait to try it out!” And Michelle squealed, “What a beautiful doll Santa left for me! I think I’ll name her Sally.”
As it saw the happy children, the little tree seemed to smile and say, “I’m proud to be your special Christmas tree.” A week after Christmas, Grandma and Grandpa left. Then mother said, “It’s time to take down our Christmas tree.” “I know what,” said Michelle. “Let’s plant our tree in the yard. That way well always have it. Maybe it will grow.”
But Jenny and Matt laughed. “You can’t plant a Christmas tree in a yard, silly,” said Jenny. “Can’t we please just try?” begged Michelle. “All right,” said Father. “I know how much you children have loved our special little tree. We’ll try. But don’t expect it to work.” And so Father dug a hole, and they all held a little tree-planting ceremony.
All winter long, Michelle kept a special watch over her little tree. Every day, she looked out the window to see if the tree was still standing in the snow. At first, Jenny and Matt smiled when they saw Michelle at the window. “Doesn’t she know that a Christmas tree can’t be planted?” Matt whispered to Jenny.
But before long, Jenny and Matt began to look out the window every day with Michelle. “At first I thought your idea was silly,” said Jenny “But maybe it really will work.” “I know it will,” said Michelle. “I think our little tree loved us as much as we loved it.”
Spring finally came. On the first warm day, Jenny and Matt and Michelle went outdoors. Michelle ran to see their little tree. She called, “Jenny, Matt, come look!” Jenny and Matt came running over. Sure enough, there were some bright green new branches growing from the tree.
“I told you our Christmas tree was special!” Michelle said. “I knew it would be here for us in the spring.” With that, Jenny and Matt and Michelle made a circle around the little tree and began to dance around it, singing, “O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, your branches green delight us.”
The little tree waved its new branches in the warm spring wind. It seemed to smile and say, “Thank you for being so kind to me. Now each time you look at me, you can remember Christmas. It will be like having the spirit of Christmas in your yard all year ’round!”