Christmas Legends: The First Christmas Tree Lights


artin Luther was composing a sermon to preach at the Church, and so he was not noticing that he was dawdling, and it was getting very dark.

In the German woods in those days the forests were the homes of Wolves, Bears and Boar, so Martin was a little afraid, especially when the night sounds began. He hurried along, saying a prayer for comfort as he went. Then he looked up through the trees, tiny pricks of light, twinkling blue and silver. At first he was puzzled, then he realised – stars of course, lights from Heaven to guide and comfort. It was a star which led the wise men to the stable on that first Christmas. God’s light sent to guide us through the darkest night.

Martin thought that this was a splendid theme for his sermon, and, feeling bolder now he felt himself safe in God’s hands, he looked around for a small tree. This little fir tree he pulled up, and took home to his family.

In 17th century Germany, it was the custom to have a candelabra shaped in a sort of triangle. This held candles throughout the Christmas season. It was also the custom in many homes to have a Christmas tree, and often these were hung upside-down from the ceiling beams. They were not often decorated at all, just there as a reminder that the shape of the tree, triangular, represented the three Persons of God – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Martin took home the little tree, but he did not hang it up on the beam. Instead he set it in a pot on the table. Then he took the candles from the candelabra, and fastened them to the little tree.

He them lit the candles, and as the flames flickered through the branches he gathered his family around the table and told them about his walk through the dark wood. Just as he was beginning to get really frightened, he said, he saw the stars twinkling encouragingly, as if God was saying “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you”.

“Gods light shines through the darkest night for everyone”, he said, “But sometimes we have to look up to see it”

Legend has it that this was the first time a candle was put on a Christmas tree. And that is why we still put lights on our Christmas Tree today, to remind us of Martin Luther’s sermon!

Maria Hubert

From the Christmas archives:



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