Tradition is a great word. It means just about anything you want it
to. The American Heritage Dictionary says, "1. The passing down of
elements of a culture from generation to generation. But traditions,
like culture, change through the years.
The Christmas season has all sorts of traditions. Each family has its
own special ones, but one thing we share. We all love the Christmas
And I especially like the legend of the first one.
In the last quarter of the 16th century, Martin Luther was composing a
sermon one night as he walked through the darkening German woods. He
hurried along, saying a prayer for comfort as he went. Then he looked up
through the trees and saw tiny pricks of light, twinkling blue and
silver. At first he was puzzled, then he realized -- stars of course,
lights from Heaven to guide and comfort. Martin thought that this
was a splendid theme for his sermon, and, feeling bolder now he looked
around and saw a little fir tree which he pulled up, and took home to
He set it in a pot on the table. Then he took the candles from the
candelabra, and fastened them to the little tree. He then lit the
candles, and as the flames flickered through the branches he gathered
his family around the table and told them about his walk through the
dark wood and how God's light is sent to guide us through the darkest
Legend has it that this was the first time a candle was put on a
Christmas tree. And that is why we still put lights on our Christmas
Many years later electric lights replaced candles, and made life easier
for fire departments, but the tree stayed the same.
My earliest memory of a Christmas tree is mostly fantasy, but that's as
it should be. I was very small and obviously not where I was supposed
to be late on a Christmas Eve. I was standing in a doorway in our
house looking into a room of incredible brilliance. There were my
mother and father hanging things on a beautiful green tree. In my
memory the tree glows and the whole room is like magic.
There is no way that memory could be accurate. It was before 1920 and
in reality the room could not have been very bright. There were no
lighted candles: my father was much too cautious. But wrapped up in
the brilliant light of my memory there was warmth and love and caring
that still mean "Christmas Tree" to me.
Through my growing up and adult years there was always a fresh, green,
fragrant tree in our house for Christmas. A small forest of evergreens
have given up their lives for my annual celebrations.
But several years ago I finally decided that tradition can be flexible,
bravely bought a little artificial tree. I felt sad and guilty as my
friends and I put the ornaments collected over a lifetime on the little
fake tree, but it looked fine and is a lot less work. One tradition
survived. My friend the philosopher and her family, who have helped me
trim the tree for many years no longer expect a turkey dinner in
payment, but settle for pizza and ice cream. The tree and the menu
have changed, but the warmth and tradition last.
This year tradition took another hit. I discarded the fake tree. All
those wonderful ornaments that I have acquired through the years have
now become valued, treeless antiques. Traditions hold us together, but
they have to change as we do.
But the tradition didn't die. It is almost as though what goes around
comes around. I think Martin Luther would like my latest version of a
Christmas tree. I truly have stars twinkling in my living room in a
little fiber optic tree that sits on the coffee table.
As we age we lose the energy to maintain the old traditions - so we
But the meaning is still the same.
As always, I wish for everyone in the world the true Christmas -- Peace
on Earth and Good Will to People. And for all of us as individuals, a
room filled with warmth and light and love.