At this Christmas season, we are not sure whether to celebrate or
mourn. This year we will do both.
The Christmas season has all sorts of traditions. Each family has its
own special ones, but there is one we share. We all love the Christmas
tree -- whatever size it is, whether it ever saw a forest or how many
ornaments it has hanging from it.
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
Several millennia later electric lights replaced candles, and made life
easier for fire departments, but the tree remained.
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. Several small forests of
evergreens have given up their lives for my annual celebrations.
There have been minor changes in tradition. My friend the philosopher
and her family have helped me trim the tree for many years. They still
help, but they no longer expect a turkey dinner in return. Now they
settle for pizza and ice cream.
Several years ago I finally decided that tradition can be flexible, and
bravely bought a little artificial tree. I felt sad and guilty as we
put the ornaments collected over a lifetime on the little fake tree, but
it looked fine and the feeling was the same.
Last year tradition took another hit. I discarded the fake tree and
bought a little fiber optic 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
But the tradition didn't die. It is almost as though what goes around
comes around. I think Martin Luther might like my latest version of a
Christmas tree. I truly have stars twinkling in my living room on that
little tree that sits on the coffee table.
This is a year of tragedy for the world, and our special thoughts go out
to those who are suffering. But I wish for all the people in the world,
whatever their spiritual beliefs, that somehow we can find the true
spirit of Christmas -- Peace on Earth and Good Will to People. And for
all of us as individuals, I wish a room filled with warmth and light and