The Legend of the Christmas Tree by Rick Osborne is a great way to teach kids how the Christmas tree ties in with the celebration of Jesus' birth.
The book opens with a family preparing to get their Christmas tree. The three kids and Mom are excited; Dad is less so. He's not really a Scrooge, but he'd rather focus on the true meaning of Christmas: Christ's birth.
But when the family arrives at the tree farm, the friendly tree farmer gives them all something to ponder. The tradition of Christmas trees, he says, began over a thousand years ago as a way to tell people about God. A man named Boniface used the tree's three corners to explain the trinity, and soon people were cutting trees and putting them in churches. Then "during the times of knights and castles," people decorated trees in December to remind them of Adam and Eve's story. Since that story isn't complete without explaining how Jesus washed away sin, people began adding decorations to these trees to remind them of Jesus' birth.
But, the tree farmer tells the family, the decorated tree wasn't a Christmas tree until "a church leader" named Martin Luther added candles to an evergreen so he could better explain the story of Jesus to his children. Jesus, he says, "came to die for our sins and became the Light of the world."
After that, the tree farmer continues, people began decorating Christmas trees much as we do today. Dad is more thoughtful now, and when the tree farmer offers them a big, beautiful Christmas tree with a silver-wrapped present beneath it, the family is delighted.
Next we see the family decorating the tree, with Dad the most joyous of them all. As they decorate, Dad asks the kids to remember Boniface's teaching and Mom brings out gingerbread cookies shaped like apples to remind them of the Adam and Eve trees of old. Finally, the family opens the tree farmer's silver-wrapped gift. Inside is a beautiful golden star. It comes with a note that reads:
"Just as the wise men found Jesus under the star of Bethlehem, may all who see the tree that is under this star hear and understand the true meaning of Christmas."At last Dad can say, "I'm glad God gave us trees and decorations and gifts to help us celebrate the true meaning of Christmas."
What I Like: Conveying this much fact in a picture book could be tedious and boring for readers, but Osborne is a great storyteller, making all the historical details flow naturally from his characters' lips. He does a terrific job of giving us a concise history of why Christians put up Christmas trees. Bill Dodge's illustrations are also a good compliment to the story. He shows a familiar-looking family with art that is realistic and telling.
What I Dislike: The author lays on the adjectives a bit heavily, but I can overlook this due to the great storytelling.
Overall Rating: Very good.
Age Appeal: 4 - 8
Publisher Info: ZonderKidz, 2001; ISBN: 0310700434; hardback; $15.99
Special Info: Check out our reviews of other Rick Osborne books.