I’m sharing the legend of the Christmas Tree today. Ever wonder why at Christmas time we put up an evergreen tree in our homes? Ever wonder who started the tradition and where did the tradition come from? Well, let me tell you…
The story of the Christmas tree begins in England, where in the eighth century, a very young man named Winfrid decided to enter a Benedictine Monastery over the objections of his parents. Winfrid grew in holiness and piety, but yearned to leave the Monastery he had joined and bring the light of Christ to the pagan Germans, just as the monks had brought the Faith to England a century earlier. Winfrid heard reports that Pope Gregory II had sent missionaries to Bavaria in 716 and decided to travel to Rome to become a Missionary to the Germans. Pope Gregory II was delighted at the arrival of the eager Winfrid and, after a period of time, commissioned him to preach the Gospel in the regions of Thuringia, Bavaria, Franconia, and Hesse. In recognition of his special Missionary Commission, the Pope also changed Winfrid’s name to Boniface.
Saint Boniface (Latin: Bonifatius; c. 675 – 5 June 754 AD), born Winfrid (also spelled Winifred,Wynfrith, Winfrith or Wynfryth) in the Kingdom of Wessex in Anglo-Saxon England, was a leading figure in the Anglo-Saxon Mission to the Germanic parts of the Frankish Empire during the 8th century.
The meaning of Boniface is from the Late Latin name Bonifatius, which meant “good fate” from bonum “good”, and fatum “fate”.
The newly named Monk travelled to Hesse (central Germany) in 721 and, with his tireless activity, his gift for organization, and his adaptable, friendly, yet firm character, he achieved great success, including the conversion of the twin chieftains Dettic and Deorulf. Boniface also established Benedictine Monasteries throughout his area of evangelization, including the great monastery of Fulda in 744. News of his great achievements reached Rome, where he was recalled by Pope Gregory II to provide a status report. Impressed and pleased with Boniface’s efforts, the Pope consecrated him Archbishop for all Germany east of the Rhine. Boniface returned to Germany in 723.
Boniface spent the rest of his life evangelizing the areas of modern Germany and parts of the Netherlands. He also became a friend of the Frankish court and helped reform and reorganized the Church in that area. From his missionary travels, Boniface knew that in winter the inhabitants of the village of Geismar gathered around a huge old oak tree (known as the “Thunder Oak”) dedicated to the god Thor. This annual event of worship centered on sacrificing a human, usually a small child, to the pagan god. Boniface desired to convert the village by destroying the Thunder Oak, which the pagans had previously boasted the “God of Boniface” could not destroy, so he gathered a few companions and journeyed to Geismar.
His fellow Missionaries were scared and fearful that the Germans might kill them, so they balked when they reached the outskirts of the village on Christmas Eve. Boniface steadied the nerves of his friends and, as they approached the pagan gathering he said, “Here is the Thunder Oak; and here the cross of Christ shall break the hammer of the false god Thor.” Boniface and his friends arrived at the time of the sacrifice, which was interrupted by their presence. In a show of great trust in God and born from a desire to enkindle the fire of Christ in the German pagans, Boniface grabbed an axe and chopped down the Thunder Oak of mighty Thor.
The Germans were astounded. The Holy Archbishop preached the Gospel to the people and used a little fir tree that was behind the now felled oak tree as a tool of evangelization. Pointing to it he said, “This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your Holy Tree tonight. It is the wood of peace… It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to Heaven. Let this be called the ‘Tree of the Christ-child’. Gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes. There it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.”
Awed by the destruction of the oak tree and Boniface’s preaching, the Germans were baptized.
In the centuries that followed, the Catholic tradition of using an evergreen tree to celebrate the birth of Jesus spread throughout Germany and German immigrants in the eighteenth century brought the custom to the New World. Some believe it was Queen Victoria who adopted the Christmas Tree tradition. Although there are many stories, legends, and myths surrounding the founding of the Christmas tree, including the claim that the custom originated with Martin Luther, there is only one story rooted in a real person and a real event: Boniface, converter of the Germans, who destroyed Thor’s mighty oak.
Our faith’s traditions over two thousand years are rooted in strong actual events that seem to have been lost. In our modern time, the meaning behind our doings during a particular holiday are just acted out without any knowledge of historical tradition. It’s nice to know the truth and be able to pass it down to future generations.
My information for this post was taken from:
Steve Weidenkopf – St. Boniface and the Christmas Tree; Catholic Answers posted June 5, 2014 available at:
I hope you enjoyed “The Legend of the Christmas Tree” post today!
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