I recently spent a night with a team of Street Pastors, who are Christian volunteers who help people in trouble.
They do a great job. While I was there, I realised how beautiful our town centres look at night, decorated for Christmas with many Christmas trees and sparkling lights.
But did you know there is a diocesan link to the origin of Christmas trees?
In one of our Peterborough diocesan churches (the one at Brixworth) there is a small fragment of St Boniface, an Englishman who centuries ago gave his life spreading the good news about Jesus through Germany. One day, he came across some people who were about to sacrifice a young child under an old oak tree.
He rescued the child by cutting down the oak tree. In its shadow he found a small evergreen fir tree which he saw as a symbol of God’s new life – his loving help – offered by Jesus all year round. That’s how the tradition of Christmas trees started in Germany; much later it was introduced to this country by Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert.
My other favourite Christmas story, probably only a beautiful legend, explains why we decorate our trees with tinsel. When Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus were running away from King Herod’s murderous soldiers, they hid in a cave. At the mouth of the cave was a spider who realised that Jesus was somehow special and wanted to help the fugitives. “I know what to do,” it thought, “I’ll spin my web across the entrance to keep them warm”.
In the morning, Herod’s soldiers arrived on their dreadful mission. They were about to search the cave when one of them spotted the early morning sunshine sparkling on the web. He said that there couldn’t be anybody in there because they would have broken the web, so they left the cave undisturbed and the holy family survived.
It is said that we put tinsel on our trees to remember that spider’s web sparkling in the early light. So as you look at the Christmas trees, reflect on God’s promise of fresh hope and strength. And as you hang up your tinsel, you might remember that spider and all those who are in need this Christmas, and above all remember Jesus.
I hope you have a very happy and peace-filled Christmas and New Year.
Rt Revd John Holbrook
Bishop of Brixworth (Assistant bishop in the Peterborough Diocese)