The First Christmas Tree

 

First Christmas Tree

by Roseann Salanitri on December 14, 2016  

 

 

Have you ever heard parents lament over how their children pay more attention to the gifts under the tree at Christmastime than to the reason for the tree? Then perhaps this two-part fictional story will be the perfect gift from my family to yours. It was written to help put Christ back into Christmas while celebrating all the gala traditions that have become associated with the holiday. Hopefully, It will transport young and old alike to the time of Christ and the very first Christmas tree that was cut down just before Easter. You can make this a new holiday tradition to be read under the lights of your very own Christmas tree while reminding all that His gift is truly the greatest gift of all! It is my great hope that all who will enjoy this story will never look at a Christmas tree again without thinking of our Lord and Savior. Take Aunt RoRo’s advice — go and enjoy the decorations, friends and family gatherings, the music, the traditional foods, and of course the gifts, just don’t forget to celebrate the greatest gift of all!

Part One:

The First Christmas Tree

By Aunt RoRo (a/k/a RoseAnn Salanitri)

On a snowy Christmas Eve, David pressed his nose against a cold window as he watched the snow whirling around and around in ever-changing patterns.

Dad walked over and put his hand on David’s shoulder. “It looks like we’re going to have a White Christmas after all.”

David giggled with excitement as he looked for signs of Old St. Nick in the evening sky.

“Look what Mom is bringing in,” Dad said as he quickly walked over to help Mom carry in the tray of hot cocoa.

Mom smiled. “I thought it would be nice to sit by the tree and drink hot cocoa together.”

Dad agreed. “That sounds good to me.”

“It sounds good to me, too,” David chimed in as he ran to get his cup.





The whole room was filled with that very special Christmastime smell of a fresh cut pine tree. David sipped his hot cocoa and then walked over to the towering tree. He caressed the ends of its soft branches between his fingers as he looked up at its glowing star. “You know,” he said, “I think this is the best tree we ever had.”

Mom laughed. “You say that every year, David.”

“I do?” David asked. “Dad, what was the first Christmas tree like?”

Dad sank into his favorite chair. “Son, I guess you’re old enough to appreciate this story. Grandpa told it to me a long time ago when I was just about your age. That story changed my whole life.”

“It did?” David interrupted. “Wow! That must have been some tree! Was it bigger than this one? Did it have more lights? How about its branches? I bet they were full and really, really green!”

“No, David,” Dad said. “It wasn’t like that at all. As a matter of fact, it was the ugliest tree in the whole forest. Come and sit on my lap and I’ll start from the beginning.

About 2,000 years ago an ordinary tree was cut down by a Roman soldier.”

“A Roman soldier!” David cried out with surprise. “I thought they were the bad guys. I didn’t know they celebrated Christmas!”

“They didn’t.” Dad continued. “Remember, we’re talking about the first Christmas tree. As a matter of fact, the first Christmas tree was cut down just before Easter.”

“That’s weird,” said a puzzled David. “I thought it was there when Jesus was born on Christmas Day?”

“Why don’t you let Dad finish his story,” Mom said.

Dad continued. “Now after Jesus was sentenced to die, the Romans went out to cut down a tree to make the cross. Of course, they always picked the worst trees in the forest for crosses–the ones that were a little rotted and already half dead. On this day they picked the worst tree ever. In fact, one of the Romans said he thought it was the ugliest tree he ever saw. It was that ugly old tree that Jesus was nailed to when He died for our sins.”

“That makes me sad,” David said with his head hanging down low. “Why did they have to do that to Jesus? He didn’t do anything to them.”

Dad answered. “If Jesus didn’t die on the cross for us, we wouldn’t be able to go to Heaven and be with Him. We’re just not good enough to deserve Heaven–none of us are. We deserve death because of all our sins. He conquered death and opened the gates of Heaven for us.”

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“What does ‘conquered’ mean, Dad?” David asked.

“Son, when we say Jesus ‘conquered death’ we mean that after He died, three days later He rose again. He is no longer dead. By doing that, by rising again, He proved that He is the Son of God and that there is life after death. Death couldn’t hold him down, and now it can’t hold us down because of Him. Do you understand what I’m trying to say, son?”

“I think so. But what about that ugly old tree? How did it get to be the first Christmas tree?” David asked.

“Well, son, after Jesus died, they took Him off the cross. Then the Romans took those ugly old sticks and threw them into a pile of firewood. But just before they were about to use that wood for fire, it started to rain and the wood got all wet. So, the Romans left that wood alone and used a different pile of dry wood for their fires.”

“Boy, that was lucky for the tree,” David said.

Dad nodded. “It sure was, and it was lucky for us too, because right after that, one of Jesus’ followers came along and took that tree to his house-except he didn’t know that it was the same wood from Jesus’ cross.”

“He didn’t?” David asked in amazement. “Didn’t anybody want Jesus’ cross? Boy, I sure would have!”

“Yes, son, so would I.” Dad agreed. “I guess they didn’t realize how important that cross was. You see, right after Jesus died all His followers were sad, confused, and frightened.”

“I guess that makes sense,” David said. “So, what happened to the tree?”

“It sat at the bottom of the firewood pile for many months. Then, one evening, there was a terrible storm with terrible winds. The howling winds blew the fire wood all around town. Most of the wood splintered and broke, except for the wood of the cross. Somehow, the wind got a hold of the old wood from the cross and blew it into the center of town where there was a bed of flowers growing. Right in the middle of this colorful bed of beautiful flowers, standing upright and proud, was this ugly old stick.

“People passed by and laughed at it. It looked so funny standing there between all the beautiful flowers. It was about this time that the Romans started persecuting Christians–“

“Dad,” David interrupted. “What does ‘persecuting’ mean?”

“Well, son,” Dad said very sadly. “The Romans thought the Christians would hurt the Roman Empire in some way. They didn’t understand what being a Christian really meant. So, they started being very mean to the followers of Jesus. They did terrible, terrible things to them.”

“Boy,” David said, “those Romans weren’t very nice people. Were they, Dad?”

“It’s not that simple to understand, David.” Dad continued. “You see, the Romans didn’t understand Jesus or the things He taught. It took a long time before they did.”

David added, “I wouldn’t want anybody to be mean to me just because I love Jesus.”

Dad answered, “I wish I could promise you that, son. Sometimes it hurts to stand up for the things we believe. We haven’t had anything mean like that happen to us; but if it ever does, it would hurt a whole lot more to deny Jesus. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Sure I do, Dad. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m not afraid to say I love Jesus,” David replied.

“That’s good, son, because if you always act that way, you’ll get to see the first Christmas tree.”

“I will?” David asked excitedly. “Boy, when can I see it?”

“I hope not for a long time.” Dad smiled. “Let’s get back to the story and I’ll explain.

 

 

“Now, just about the time when the Romans started persecuting the Christians, there was a man named Stephen. Stephen wasn’t afraid of saying how he felt about Jesus. He loved Jesus very much and he made sure everybody knew that. Of course, this created a lot of trouble for Stephen. Eventually he had to stand trial for the things he believed.”

“You mean the Romans made him go to court?” David asked.

“Not the Romans, but the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees,” Dad answered. “They were very educated Jewish men who didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God. So they got together with the Romans and decided to stone Stephen. Do you know what ‘stoning’ is?”

“Yuk!” David replied. “I sure do. That’s when people throw heavy stones at you until you die!”

Dad sadly replied, “That’s right, David, and that’s what they did to Stephen. Now after Stephen died, it became much harder for the Christians to even talk about Jesus.”

“Were they afraid, Dad?” David asked.

“They sure were,” Dad answered, “but that didn’t stop them. They made up a secret sign in the form of a fish. You’ve seen the sign. It’s the fish sign we use today to represent Christianity. When they wanted to know if they were talking to another believer, one person would use his foot to draw half of the fish in the dirt, and then, if the other person was a believer, he would draw the other half of the fish in the dirt.”

“Cool,” David said. “Like a secret handshake, right, Dad?”

“Something like that, David. Now, remember the old wood from Jesus’ cross was in the middle of the town, and people kind of used it like a street sign. Everybody knew where that old stick was. So, when the Christians needed a place to meet that didn’t look suspicious to the Romans, they would meet in front of the cross and pretend that they just happened to be passing by and stopping a minute to talk.”

“Now that’s really, really cool, Dad.” David laughed. “The whole time they were meeting to talk about Jesus, they were meeting right in front of His cross and they didn’t even know it!”

Dad chuckled. “That’s right, David. They didn’t know it. But can you guess what happened next?”

David shook his head.

Dad continued. “Well, as they met in front of the cross to talk about Jesus, they started feeling a lot of love for each other, which is what Jesus is all about.”

“Oh, Dad, I know that. I know Jesus is love because God is love, and Jesus is God too.”

“Yes, David. We know that today,” Dad said, “but back then they were just starting to understand.”

“What happened to the tree?” David asked.

“That old stick actually began to grow,” Dad answered. “You see, everybody thought it was dead. But the more they understood Jesus, the more they loved each other; the more they loved each other, the deeper the roots grew; and the deeper the roots grew, the taller the tree grew. Then something even more remarkable happened.

“One cold winter night, that ugly old tree began to bud. And that was really strange because it wasn’t even spring–it was winter. And the more love that was shared, the more the tree grew. Then the tree sprouted branches and the branches burst with buds. The buds turned into blossoms, and the blossoms turned into fruit–not any old fruit, this was special fruit that was fed with love, and joy, and life.”

“I’ll bet those Romans were surprised? Right, Dad?” David asked.

“At first the Romans didn’t notice that the tree had life in it. Then the tree grew so spectacular that even the Romans couldn’t help but notice. Some even ate its fruit, and when they did, they too became Christians. It was truly a miracle, son–a wonderful, wonderful miracle.” Dad paused for a moment as he sipped his hot chocolate and gazed at the Christmas tree.

“What happened next, Dad?” David asked.

“Then some of the Christians began to decorate the tree. They put stars on it to represent the star that stood over Jesus’ manger when He was born. They even put little carved decorations on it.”

“I’ll bet they put lights on it too?” David asked.
Dad answered. “No, son, they didn’t have to. The tree was so incredible that it began to shine on its own, just like the light in us shines out when we believe in Jesus.”

“That was some tree, Dad!”
Dad replied, “It sure was, son. The people even named the tree. They called it the Tree of Life.”

“Wow!” David exclaimed. “Is it still there today? You said I could see it.”

“No, son, it’s not still there,” Dad answered. “Let me finish the story. The Romans decided to cut it down because they noticed that it made the Christians happy. They gathered up some men and left early in the morning when the Christians were still asleep, and they went to cut down the tree.”

“That’s so sad,” David whispered. “If they didn’t do that, I’ll just bet that tree would still be around today.”
Dad smiled. “That’s the best part of the story. You see, when the Romans went to cut down the tree, they got quite a surprise-“ Dad paused a moment. “The tree wasn’t there.”

“It wasn’t? What happened to it?” David asked.

“We don’t really know. Nobody ever spoke about the tree again, except for one time in the Book of Revelation, which is the very last part of the Bible. There we are told that in the middle of Heaven, right in the middle of a crystal lake, stands the Tree of Life. The angels gather around it and sing with great joy and happiness. So will we someday. Someday all true believers will be gathered around the Tree of Life and on that day we will all be happy with Jesus in Heaven.”

“That’s a great story, Dad. I’ll never be able to look at a Christmas tree the same way again. I’ll always think of that old cross and how that old cross turned into the most beautiful tree that ever lived.”
Dad smiled. “Good, David, and remember that no matter how beautiful a Christmas tree is, it could never be as beautiful as that old ugly tree the Romans cut down over 2,000 years ago.”

“Dad, Mom, I love you,” David said as he gazed at the Christmas tree.

“We love you too, David,” said Dad and Mom together. Just then the Christmas tree lights sparkled a little brighter.

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