“Christmas Tree Lightings:” you see them in movies, and many cities around the country enjoy one in the town square every year. They occur in the nation’s capital, state capitals, neighborhoods, malls, and about anyplace a group wants to have one. They initiate the beginning of the Christmas season. The dates will vary, but the excitement they instill in the crowds is always present.

On Thursday, December 5 of this year, there was a “Christmas Tree Lighting” that took place in Boston Commons. The tree in the commons is always a balsam fir, white spruce, or red spruce and reaches forty to fifty feet into the sky. The tree is a gift from the people of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Each year landowners will notify the Novia Scotia Department of Natural Resources that they have a tree that fits the specifications of being forty to fifty feet tall, uniform and symmetrical, medium to heavy density, good health and color, easy to remove, and must be a balsam fir, red or white spruce. The selected tree will be cut and shipped to Boston. The tree and lighting have taken place every year since 1971; however, the first time was in December of 1918.

On December 6, 1917, the French Ship, SS Mont Blanc, entered Halifax Harbor with 2,925 tons of munitions and explosives along with barrels of highly flammable benzol and picric acid headed for the war in Europe. In the harbor, coming in the opposite direction, was the Norwegian ship SS Imo carrying Belgian relief supplies. The ships were signaling back and forth about who had the right-of-way. When the SS Imo finally began to maneuver out of the way, it couldn’t move fast enough and collided with the SS Mont Blanc. The collision broke barrels of benzol loose and a fire started. The crew of the SS Mont Blanc abandoned ship and got to shore leaving a floating disabled, burning ship adrift and making its way to the docks of Halifax Harbor. At the harbor, hundreds of people had come to watch the fire, not knowing what it contained. The ship exploded, killing over 1,600 people and literally vaporizing part of the town and over 400 people who were never found. 

Among the first to respond from the United States were the people of Massachusetts and especially Boston, sending two medical relief teams through one of the worst snowstorms in decades. They helped set up temporary housing and a warehouse with household goods for families to start rebuilding their lives. They would remain and help the city from 1918 to 1924. The tree that Boston receives is a gift from their neighbors to the north, a continuous gift, given and received by people who were not even alive at the time, but remember the kindness and love shown so many years in the past.

Christmas trees are a part of the season, with some having special meanings. Charlie Brown felt sorry for a little tree that no one wanted and expressed his love for the little tree by taking it home. Years ago, when I was in the hospital over the Christmas Holidays, I was given a small white tree in my hospital room as an expression of caring. In one of our rooms, we continue to decorate the tree of our son, who passed away several years ago. Many of us have trees that are adorned with past memories of people and events that have been special to us.

Most of us will have a “Christmas tree” in our homes over the holidays. They will vary in sizes and shapes. Some will be tall, while others will sit in the corner of the room on a table. Each will be decorated differently, some elaborate, some simple. Most will either be thrown away for mulch, while others will be boxed up for use next year. However, there are those trees that, while they stand stately, whether in a home or in a place like Boston Commons, carry a special meaning. 

I don’t know if your tree has any special meaning. Maybe you have a star sitting on the top representing the one that shone down over the birth of a child thousands of years ago. It could be an angel is sitting there, much like the ones who sang at the cry of a newborn infant. Whatever is on your tree, take time to remember the one who was born to bring joy and hope to a dark world.

In the giving of a Christmas tree, Halifax expressed its thanks to the people of Boston and Massachusetts for the love and hope they had given, the same reason our Savior came to this earth. May you take time this Christmas season to remember the one who loves you enough to come to your aid whenever you need Him.

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (NASB) 

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ.


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