St. Boniface and the Christmas Tree

Fr. Kevin Dillon is the Pastor of St. Boniface Martyr Parish, Sea Cliff, Long Island, NY.

Traditionally this weekend is known as Gaudete Sunday or in English, Joy Sunday. We are halfway through Advent and we light the Pink Candle on the Advent Wreath to signify Christmas is almost here. Many people decorate and put their Christmas Trees up this weekend, and so in honor of that I thought you might find the following article I read interesting, particularly since it relates to our beloved Patron, Boniface!

One of our stain glass windows in Church depicts our Patron, Boniface, chopping down a  great and might oak tree in the forest. We know St. Boniface was of English origins by birth and
traveled to Germany to evangelize and spread Christianity to the German people. Despite the fact that Boniface is seen chopping down a tree, the legend of the Christmas tree was born. We know that legends are not true; however, we can sometimes learn something from them and apply it to a larger truth.

Someone from the parish shared the following article with me and I
thought it was appropriate to share with you for
two reasons. The Christmas tree is a popular
sight in contemporary culture; we adorn our
homes and marketplaces with them; in fact, we
even have them in Church and St. Boniface is
credited with Christianizing this Christmas

What Christmas celebration would be complete
without the glittering fir filling our homes with
light and warmth? Whence the custom of the
Christmas tree? Pine fir trees were certainly not
found in Oriental Bethlehem when Jesus was
born. Rather Palm Trees grow in that area of the
world. Why then don’t Palm Trees adorn our
living rooms and malls at this time of year? One
can even go as far as to ask is it even Christian?

Indeed, that majestic fir in our living rooms
has an ancient wonderful history.
Though the custom began pagan, it was
“baptized” and adopted by the wisdom of the
great St. Boniface!  One of the pagan gods
was a great oak tree, called Thunder Oak in honor of the god Thor.

Every winter locals would offer sacrifice to Thor
under the oak tree. The sacrifice was a young
child, certainly barbaric and Boniface bravely
did away with this custom by chopping down
the oak tree. Legend has it that a strong gust of
wind toppled the oak tree before Boniface
finished cutting it down and the locals were so
impressed that the “god” did not strike down
Boniface that they accepted Christianity.

As the giant oak collapsed, standing there was a
small fir tree that somehow escaped destruction.
Pointing to it the holy man Boniface 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 endless life; for its leaves are
evergreen. See how it points upward to the
heavens. Let this be called the tree of the Christ
child. Gather around it not in the forests but in
your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds
of blood but loving gifts and rites of
kindness.” (The Legend of the Christmas Tree,
by Andrea Phillips)

Thus using strength and tact, Saint Boniface did
away with an idol and made it a holy and
Christian symbol. As you gather around your
Christmas trees this year, share its holy origins
with your children relatives and friends so they
may not only love its lights, colors and
ornaments, but also the rich Catholic heritage
that is theirs.

-Fr. Kevin

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