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Who doesn’t love a Christmas Tree? 

What Christmas would be complete without the glittering fir, filling the house with color and warmth?

But whence the custom of the Christmas Tree? The pine fir certainly wasn’t present in Oriental Bethlehem, when Jesus was born. Rather, palm trees grow in the East, and are often depicted around the Crèche.

So, why don’t we decorate a palm tree, rather than a fir tree? Is the custom even Christian, we may ask?

Indeed, that Christmas tree standing in our living room has an ancient, wonderful history. And though the custom began pagan, it was “baptized” and adopted by the wisdom of a great saint.

St. Boniface was an English man who lived in the ninth century and who felt called to evangelize the German nation.

One of the pagan German gods was a great oak tree called “Thunder Oak” in honor of the god Thor. Every winter, the locals offered a sacrifice to Thor, usually a child, under the mighty oak.

One year, fired by holy anger, Boniface decided to do away with the barbaric custom and bravely showed up with an ax just in time to prevent the killing. Before the astounded revelers, he proceeded to hack away at the massive trunk.

Legend has it that a miraculous gust of wind pushed down the tree at the first blows. Impressed that the “god” did not strike down the daring priest, the pagans accepted Christianity.

As the giant oak collapsed, standing there was a small fir tree that, somehow, escaped destruction.

 

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Pointing to it, the holy man 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.”

Thus using strength, St. Boniface did away with an idol.

Yet, also showing amazing tact, he wisely filled the vacuum left by a cancelled custom with another tree, now used merely as a symbol or as a type of “sacramental” directing the new Christians to the true God.

So was the evergreen taken into homes at Christmas, from that time on becoming a loving sentinel to the birth of Christ, a symbol of hope, peace and good-will.

With time, small and large decorated evergreens were used as an actual backdrop to the holy Crèche, another custom begun by another great saint, Francis of Assisi.

So as you gather around the Christmas Tree this year, share its holy origins with your children, so they may not only love it’s lights and colors, but also the rich Catholic heritage that is theirs.

 


 

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By Andrea F. Phillips

References: EWTN Online, Catholic Answers, Wikipedia
Photos:
Christmas Tree: Dreamstime.

St. Boniface and Thunder Oak: Wiki Commons; attribution: Jdsteakley

 

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Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for July 24, 2021

It is easy to infuse a most fervent devotion into others, ev...

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July 24

 

It is easy to infuse
a most fervent devotion into others, even in a short time;
but the great matter is
– to persevere.

St. Philip Neri


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Charbel Makhlouf

Multiple times, he successfully lit an oil lamp which was fi...

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St. Charbel Makhlouf

Youssef Antoun Makhlouf was born in the village of Bekka Kafra in Lebanon on May 8, 1828 and was one of five children born to Antoun Zarrour Makhlouf and Brigitta Chidiac. His father was a mule driver who died when Youssef was only three years old, leaving his widow to bring up their children alone.

Although Brigitta was left nearly destitute, she reserved a profoundly religious atmosphere in their home and instilled in her children a deep spirit of piety. Because of this fidelity, Youssef became unusually devoted and inclined to prayer and solitude at a very young age. He was greatly attracted to the life and spirituality of hermits; and as a young boy tending his family’s small flock, he would often go to a nearby grotto where he had erected a little shrine to the Holy Mother of God and would spend his whole day there in prayer.

When he was twenty-three years old, Youssef, feeling the call to the religious life, left his home and family to join the Lebanese Maronite Order at the Monastery of Our Lady in Marfouq. Here he began his formation as a monk before later being transferred to the Monastery of St. Maron near Beirut. There he received the religious habit of the Maronite monk and took the name Charbel. He made his final profession as a religious brother on November 1, 1853 – he was twenty-five years old.

Brother Charbel immediately began his studies for the priesthood under the instruction of Father Nimattullah Kassab, who was also later declared a saint by the Church. Charbel was ordained on July 23, 1859, following which he returned to the Monastery of St. Maron where he lived a life of great austerity. In 1875, he was granted permission by his superiors to live a solitary life in the Hermitage of Sts. Peter and Paul, which was under the jurisdiction of the monastery; and there he resided for the remaining twenty-three years of his life until his death on Christmas Eve, 1898.

St. Charbel is renowned for his many miracles both during his life and after his death. His most famous miracle – which was also his first – occurred when, multiple times, he successfully lit an oil lamp which was filled with water. He is also credited with many healing miracles.

After his death, he was interned at the Monastery of St. Maron, now a famous pilgrimage site. His tomb was often witnessed surrounded by a dazzling light, and to this day his remains are incorrupt and an unexplainable blood-like fluid flows from his body. He was canonized on December 9, 1977, by Pope Paul VI, who held him up as an example to help us understand “in a world, largely fascinated by wealth and comfort, the paramount value of poverty, penance and asceticism, to liberate the soul in its ascent to God.”

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protest...

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Walk to Conversion

In September, I brought the statue of Our Lady of Fatima to the home of Mr. John Black and his family in Kings City, California.  John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protestantism: about thirteen years ago he was visiting one of the 21 Spanish missions in California (though these are holy sites, they also serve as tourist attractions.)

“Who is this Junipero Serra anyways?”  he asked, as the tour guide shared the history of the mission. “Well,” the guide responded, “you are standing on his grave!”  Surprised, John looked down and read inscription on the stone. Sure enough, Blessed Father Junipero Serra was buried right there. “I became electrified,” John told me, “I had to learn more about this man and about the missions.”  The more he studied Blessed Serra, the founder of the first nine missions, the more impressed he became, and he decided to travel on-foot to all 21 missions. 

With the blessing of his wife, now left at home with their two infant sons, John left for his solo expedition, taking with him a single backpack, the bible and little money.  He told me that every mission he visited he felt the presence of someone receiving him, even if the mission was empty. He felt this ambiance in the missions so serene and uplifting, and began to realize it was the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament that made him feel so at home.

At one point, John collapsed from exhaustion near a mission run by Franciscans, who kindly hosted him for the night. Before he left the next day, one of the friars gave him a first-class relic of Blessed Serra. Since he was Protestant, John did not know what a relic was, but not wanting to appear rude, he accepted it. Not long after he left the Franciscans, John became lost in the wilderness in the middle of the night. Through his exhaustion and fear he heard a voice say, “Let’s help John.” He had the distinct feeling that Blessed Serra was guiding him, and gathered the strength and courage to continue. About six hours later, he stumbled upon the next mission. “It was kind of a miracle,” he said, “I was really lost!”

During his journey, John slowly came to a realization. “I know what you want from me, God,” he thought to himself one day, “you what me to became a Catholic. That is what this is all about!” However, he still had many questions about aspects of Catholicism that have been rejected by his Protestant faith – mainly about the Blessed Mother. Yet, from that point on he received answers to all of his questions, especially his reservations about devotion to Mary: he believed that it was once again Blessed Serra answering him.

With the help of Blessed Serra, one problem after another was resolved in the solitude of his travels. By the time John reached the final mission, he wholly decided to become a Catholic. “I realized that by having devotion to Mary, you love Our Lord even more,” he told me.

John returned home, filled with zeal and enthusiasm for his newfound faith. He shared his astonishing experiences with his wife, and she too converted. “I feel at home in the Catholic church,” John said, “and I have never loved Our Lord Jesus Christ more than I do now.”

by Joseph Ferrara

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John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protestantism: about fourteen years ago he was visiting one of the 21 Spanish missions in California 

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