A Family Blessing for a Christmas Tree

Today, one way to keep Jesus at the forefront of your family’s Christmas tree decorating tradition is to say a prayer together.

A Brief History of the Christmas Tree

Every year Christians put up Christmas trees in their homes. Yet, we don’t often pause to ponder how this tradition first began. For thousands of years, plants and trees which remained green all year long offered hope for people through the cold winter months. Just as people today, beginning in Advent, decorate their homes with pine, spruce, and fir trees, so too ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. These evergreen adornments served as a hopeful, anticipatory reminder that the spring would come. 

“Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.” [1]

“Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747.” [2] However, because America was settled predominantly by the strict Puritans, as late as the 1840’s Christmas trees were widely rejected in the states.

The Puritans “contended that there was no Scriptural warrant for the celebration of Jesus’ birth… When the Puritans rebelled against King Charles I, inciting the English Revolution, the popular celebration of Christmas was on their hit list. Victorious against the king, in 1647, the Puritan government actually canceled Christmas. Not only were traditional expressions of merriment strictly forbidden, but shops were also ordered to stay open, churches were shut down and ministers arrested for preaching on Christmas Day.” [3] 

“The Puritans who came to America naturally shared these sentiments… So naturally, official suppression of Christmas was foundational to the… colonies in New England.” [4]

“On their first Christmas in the New World, the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony celebrated the holiday not at all. Instead they worked in the fields. One year, the colony’s governor, William Bradford, yelled at visitors to the colony who, unaware that Christmas was celebrated more in the absence than in the commemoration, were taking the day off. He found them ‘in the streete at play, openly; some pitching the barr, and some at stoole-ball, and shuch like sports.’ After that incident, no one again tried to take off work for Christmas in the colony.” [5]

“The Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony went one step further and actually outlawed the celebration of Christmas. From 1659 to 1681, anyone caught celebrating Christmas in the colony would be fined five shillings.” [6]

“Well into the 18th century, those who attempted to keep the tradition of wassailing alive in New England often found themselves arrested and fined. Indeed, the Puritan War on Christmas lasted up to 1870, when Christmas became a legally recognized federal holiday. Until then, men and women were expected to go to work, stores were expected to remain open, and many churches did not even hold religious services.” [7]

Needless to say, it took quite a while for Christmas trees to become (1) societally accepted and (2) commonly erected in homes across America. It would take a special queen to turn the tide…

“In 1846, the popular royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Unlike the previous royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at court immediately became fashionable—not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society. The Christmas tree had arrived.” [8]

“By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. It was noted that Europeans used small trees about four feet in height, while Americans liked their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling.” [9]

A Blessing for a Christmas Tree

Originally, a figure of the baby Jesus was used as a tree topper, where we usually place a star or an angel. “Over time it changed to an angel/fairy that told the shepherds about Jesus, or a star like the Wise Men saw.” [10] Even though the baby Jesus is no longer a common figure at the top of our Christmas trees, we should still endeavor to keep our customs Christ-centered.

Today, one way to keep Jesus at the forefront of your family’s Christmas tree decorating tradition is to say a prayer together.

“Once your family has decorated your Christmas tree, gather ‘round to say the following blessing. One person may say it, or family members can each choose a verse. This reinforces the understanding that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ.” [11]

From “The Anglican Family Prayer Book”:

May the green of this tree

     Remind us of the everlasting life You offer.

May the boughs of this tree

    Remind us the we are the living branches of Your love.

May the life of this tree

     Remind us of the cross on which Your Son gave His life.

May the lights of this tree 

     Remind us that Christ is the light of the world.

As we gather round this tree, we gather in Your Name,

     And in Your light, and in Your love.

Amen. [12]


[1] History.com Editors. (2009, October 27). History of Christmas Trees. Retrieved December 07, 2020, from https://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas-trees

[2] Ibid. 1

[3] Schnepper, R. (2012, December 15). Yuletide’s Outlaws. Retrieved December 07, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/opinion/the-puritan-war-on-christmas.html

[4] Ibid. 3

[5] Ibid. 3

[6] Ibid. 3

[7] Ibid. 3

[8] History.com Editors. (2009, October 27). History of Christmas Trees. Retrieved December 07, 2020, from https://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas-trees

[9] Ibid. 8

[10] JPC-DESIGN, W. (2000). The History of Christmas Trees on whychristmas?com. Retrieved December 07, 2020, from https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/trees.shtml

[11] Kitch, A. E. (2004). Faith Rituals throughout the Year. In The Anglican family prayer book (Kindle ed., pp. 432-436). Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub.

[12] Ibid. 11

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