Tinsel time

Dec 12th, 2009 | By | Category: Ministry

The church Christmas tree went up this afternoon; an event that would have been regarded as pagan or Popish, or both, amongst some evangelical circles in the North.  One minister declared that he would not have a Christmas tree in his church because its popularity owed itself to its pagan associations. Another lost a number of families from his congregation when he first held a service on Christmas Day, an innovation they perceived as the first step in a Romeward slide, prompting them to join a congregation where the church building would be very firmly locked on Christmas morning.  Even the word ‘Christmas’, Christ-Mass, caused problems to some people.

In childhood days, the idea that Christmas decorations would cause people annoyance, or that Christmas itself would be something they would refuse to celebrate, would have seemed very strange.

We were not religious, but nor was there any thought that any of our celebrations were pagan, (and one would be hard-pressed to find anywhere in England with stronger pagan associations than the area around Glastonbury).

One of the favourite memories of Christmas in primary school days was making Christmas ‘candles’.  These were toilet roll tubes covered in crepe paper with a green crepe frill around the base; a slit was cut into the paper covering the top of the tube and a ‘flame’ cut from red or orange paper was inserted.  The people with the best candles were those who had brought the tubes from kitchen roll or tin foil.  Apparently, toilet roll tubes are now banned on health grounds; it is a wonder that an entire generation of English school children ever survived and that Blue Peter was not banned for encouraging dangerous habits.

Crepe paper provided much, maybe most of the Christmas decoration.  Rolls of it were twisted and pinned to ceiling beams and curtain rails.  The crepe chains were supplemented by paper chains made with strips of coloured paper turned into links of chain with gum from a glass bottle with a rubber top.  There were paper balls and bells that concertinaed flat for storage, but when opened were in quarters of red and blue and yellow; the paper was barely more substantial than tissue and the decorations were easily torn.

The baubles on the Christmas tree were brittle and would sometimes smash if dropped, tiny shards of glass being scattered across the floor.  Most of the tree decorations seemed to have been used year upon year; though when you are eight years old, two years is a lengthy tradition.

There was a great innocence about it, and a great sense of magic.  The presents are now hard to remember; they were certainly not nearly as plentiful.

Santa will sit beside the church Christmas tree after church tomorrow; he is coming along to collect people’s letters.  His presence would undoubtedly only add to the irritation of those who regard the whole thing as pagan.

If churches could capture one sense of the wonder felt by children at Christmas, they would be places very different from what they have become.

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  1. I wonder if the minister who declared that he wouldn’t have a tree in church has a yew in the churchyard??
    I too remember making the candles at Ham school from toilet rolls also Father Christmas too from the toilet rolls, none of caught anything nasty from using the empty tubes….I helped James make a castle the other day for a school project…..the 4 towers standing proud on the corners?????toilet rolls…yyeeeaahhh..victory for the non PC only sensible 40 something left in the village!!!!I can remember my Christmas pressies Ian….A Corgi Toy, The Beano and Blue Peter Annuals, a selection box, an Enid Blyton book…….Well they were always the main ones anyway…….and apart from the selection box I’ve still got the rest!!!!!

  2. Les,

    Most of those churches would have had no burial ground, but I’m sure the yew tree would be consigned to the same place as the Christmas tree.

    You have an extraordinary memory and retention skills! I think we have moved so often that even if I had kept anything, which I had,’t it would have long since been confiscated

  3. The Church seems to forget that Christmas IS pagan. It was hijacked by Christianity out of convenience. I don’t see why both traditions can’t coincided frankly. It’s like Easter, purely symbolic from a Christian perspective, how can Good Friday occur at different times each year if it’s legitimately the anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion. I think some take themselves far too seriously. What next? The Tooth Fairy? Ah selection boxes. I remember them. We always had an orange in our stockings as well. Not sure what that was all about. Good on you for including Santa!

  4. The pagan origins were the reason some of the evangelical churches didn’t do Christmas. Didn’t the orange date from times when they were rare and were a special treat?

  5. Yes oranges were only available for a short period around Christmas, and they still taste the best at this time of the year…….Unfortunately now WE MUST have everything all year round

  6. It was the exotic oranges I remember most – the tangerines and the clementines and the satsumas. The other thing that always seemed to appear at Christmas was boxes of dates with a long fork thing to pick them out of the box.

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