The practice of decorating homes with evergreen branches in winter goes back thousands of years to pre-Christian Europe. Christians in Germany first adopted the practice for their religion in the 1500s. They brought evergreen trees indoors, put candles on them, assigned religious meaning to these symbols and gave birth to what we call the Christmas tree. German immigrants brought the practice to America in the 1700s, but it didn’t become common in the United States until Queen Victoria first made it popular in the United Kingdom in the 1800s. Today, the Christmas tree is everywhere, even in secular community observances such as this.
The Jewish festival of lights known as Hanukkah is also observed this month. The lighting of candles on the menorah is the central act in this celebration of victory, freedom and dedication.
Tonight, we conduct this ceremony in continuity with these traditions of greenery and lights. To some, this is called a “holiday tree,” in recognition that we are a community of many beliefs and religious faiths. To others, it will always be a Christmas tree. Whatever faith you bring to this ceremony, the hope it symbolizes is unmistakable: life in the midst of winter’s barrenness … light in the midst of winter’s darkness.
As we gather as a community to celebrate this season of life and light, I invite you to join me in prayer.
God of hope … of joy … of peace, I seek your blessings for those gathered here, for our community and for our world. May these beautiful lights bring cheer to all in the midst of winter, and may the hope they symbolize be fulfilled in our hearts and in our lives. We remember our brothers and sisters in arms on battlefields so far away and separated this season from those they love. I pray for their safety, and for the swift completion of their mission. Sustain them and those they love throughout their days of deployment. May we all be filled with a sense of human kinship, kindness and generosity of spirit. Thank you for the light of hope that shines in our midst. Help us always to live within that light. In your name I pray, Amen.