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The Chrismons tree tradition overcomes challenges to light up the community
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The Chrismons tree tradition overcomes challenges to light up the community

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Chrismons

Kate Albright shows off the new ornaments for the Chrismons tree. The designs are patterned after the first Chrismons tree in 1957.

“Why not?”

That was the question the volunteers who carry on the annual Chrismons ministry asked themselves this year.

Their resounding reply was to carry on, but do it just a little differently.

For 62 years, a Chrismons tree has stood tall and magnificent in the sanctuary of Ascension Lutheran Church on West Main Street. This year, however, it will be outside.

“It’s going to be different, because why not?” asked Kate Albright, head of the Chrismons committee at the church.

The church has still not resumed in-person church services suspended because of the ongoing pandemic. With that in mind, it was decided the best decision was not to bring people into the church to volunteer or to view the annual display.

“We couldn’t expose our own people, many of whom are older,” Albright explained. “It wasn’t the responsible thing to do, but we still wanted to present these Chrismons to the community.”

Chrismons

New ornaments designed to withstand outside weather rest beside a picture of the first Chrismons tree. Volunteers at Ascension Lutheran Church are decorating this year's tree in honor of the first one.

The history

Started at the church in 1957, the tree contains centuries-old symbols depicting the life of Jesus Christ, with the tiny white lights symbolizing his purity. Church member Frances Spencer began the tradition after finding the church’s usual tree too secular. After researching appropriate Christ-centered ornaments for the tree, she made them and decorated the first tree.

A ministry and a tradition was born.

Members of the church have devoted themselves in the years since then to decorating a Chrismons tree and offering the tree to the community. Throughout the years, the annual tree has attracted worldwide attention.

The designs are monograms of and symbols for Jesus Christ that have been used since Biblical times, according to the church’s website. All Chrismons ornaments are made in a combination of white and gold to symbolize Christ’s purity and majesty. They tell the story of Christ and his ministry.

The Chrismons tree is usually about 21-feet tall, but this year a 14-foot tree will be used and will be placed under the cross of the steeple in the front yard of the church.

“It might have been back in June or July that we began to wonder what to do about the tree this year because of the pandemic,” said Ed White, a member of the committee. “We didn’t discuss not doing it for very long because Kate said not having it was not going to happen.”

Once they realized they would not be resuming in-person church services until after the first of the year, they began to go back and forth with new ideas.

Chrismons

New ornaments, many of them made by a 3-D printer, are lined up on a table in the Chrismons room at Ascension Lutheran Church. All new ornaments had to be made this year since the tree will be outside for the first time.

Need for new ornaments

One obstacle was that the ornaments, which are carefully organized and stored from Christmas to Christmas, are designed for the inside and could not withstand the outside elements, especially since many of them are old.

In what Albright called a “moment of craziness,” the committee decided to make all new ornaments that were appropriate for outside and that reflected the ornaments on the first tree in 1957.

“The first tree was pretty simple with 11 designs, nine big designs with six each and two small designs with 36 each,” Albright said, showing a paper with the original designs drawn on it. “The intent of the first tree was to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, using such Chrismons as crosses, Chi-Ros, twinkling stars and several versions of the cross.”

A Chi Ro is a Christian symbol formed by combining the first two letters, X and P, of the Greek word for Christ.

This is the first time the tree has been patterned after and honored the first one.

“It has always been a building and growing tree, but we don’t have many people now to help,” she said. “We have about 30 people attend our Zoom service on Sundays and 10 to 12 involved with the Chrismons ministry.”

Albright said it has been an interesting process trying to find materials to replace the original materials of Styrofoam, a metallic stretch metal that is no longer available and glass beads. These materials have been replaced with more modern alternatives, such as insulation foam board, plywood, wooden beads and something called Dazzle Drape.

Many of the ornaments are made with plastic and formed by a 3-D printer. Ed White and his wife, Jane, used a $250 grant to buy the printer and then Ed learned to use it. It takes about two hours to make one of the ornaments.

Chrismons

The new outside tree topper rests on the box containing the older inside tree topper. All the ornaments are carefully organized and stored throughout the year on shelves in a dedicated room at Ascension Lutheran Church.

The tree itself

The tree will also have a new star on the top more suited for being outside.

This year’s tree is coming from the yard of Karen Harris, executive director of God’s Storehouse.

“If you are a member of Ascension Lutheran, you are always on the lookout for a Chrismons tree,” White said.

The tree will be decorated by Tuesday and ready for visitors, Albright predicts. Although there will not be the usual volunteers to explain the Chrismons and their significance, due to the pandemic, Albright said there will be explanatory materials available.

“The tree will be dedicated on the 13th at 5 p.m., and we would love to have people stop by and see it,” said Albright. “It will be available 24 hours a day seven days a week.”

She said sharing the meaning of the tree has always been a big part of the ministry for her.

“Putting this tree together brings us at the church together,” White said. “We have decorators, explainers and hostesses. At some level a large percentage of the congregation puts the tree up.”

The pandemic changed all that, though, they both admit.

“But it will be a tree, it will be beautiful and it will tell the story of Christ and His love for us,” said Albright.

White added, “And that’s the important thing.”

Visitors to the tree are asked to wear masks and to maintain social distancing.

Elzey is a freelance writer for the Register & Bee. She can be reached at susanelzey@yahoo.com or 434-791-7991.

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