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.