Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

St. Boniface and the Christmas Tree

       St. Boniface and the Christmas Tree

          Millions of people have begun flocking to stores to buy their Christmas trees.  It's a nice tradition of the holiday season, but many have stripped it of its religious significance and many more have no idea where the tradition came from.

          I've known people who refuse to have a Christmas tree because they claim it is a pagan tradition.  While it is true that paganism does play some part in the history of the Christmas tree, it is a thoroughly Christian custom.

          We can trace the Christmas tree to St. Boniface in the eighth century.  Boniface was an English Benedictine missionary sent to evangelize the pagan tribes of Germany.

          The pagans of southern Germany used trees in their worship and in a famous, historically documented story Boniface used this to bring about their conversion.  At the time of Christmas in the year AD 723, Boniface saw that a young man was to be sacrificed under Odin's oak.  Boniface responded by taking an axe to the sacred tree. Not only was Boniface not struck dead, legend has it that at his first blow, a miraculous wind blew the tree over.  The people recognized the power of the true God and mass conversions began.

          Boniface took the customs of the local people surrounding tress and “baptized” them.  It was customary for people to bring trees into their homes around the time of the winter solstice, so Boniface decided this custom could be transformed into one that honored the true God.

          At Christmas, the people brought in evergreen trees, symbolizing peace and life, and pointing toward Heaven, and decorated them to honor the birth of the Lord.

          The rest, as they say, is history.  The tradition spread to England and eventually to the United States and the Christian West.  So this year as we trim our trees, may they point our eyes Heavenward, and may we use these beautiful gifts of nature to be offerings to the true God, the Baby born among nature's beasts in a stable so many years ago.