Even a missionary living in the African bush enjoys a few decorations and festivities at Christmas time. But ornaments were the last item I’d have taken to Africa if I had the room.

So I cut off  part of a bush, which didn’t resemble an evergreen or fir.  I put this three-foot shrub in my living room and decorated it with strung popcorn. But several days later the ants and termites destroyed the garland.

After that I took empty medicine bottles and boxes and wrapped them up with some old Christmas paper I’d saved from the previous year. With thread I tied my miniature “presents” to the branches.

The village chief came for a visit and looked at the “thing.” And that’s what it was until he labeled it. “I didn’t know missionaries kept idols in their homes.”

“This is not an idol. It is a Christmas tree. In my country it is a symbol of Christmas.


“Christ died on a tree and gave His life for us.”

He scowled. “Didn’t he die on the Easter holiday?”

There was no one to ask. No Christmas tradition book to read. No Internet or Google to check on the origin of the tree.

He kept frowning and pointed at it. “Christ could not have died on that.”

“No, Christ didn’t die on shrub.”

“If it’s not an idol, what does it mean?” He puckered his brow.

I took in a breath deciding how to answer. The bush meant nothing to me, but as I stared at each brightly decorated little gift dangling from the shoots, I had an answer. “These represent the gifts the wise men brought baby Jesus.”

The chief nodded. “I heard about the presents. Will you give one to me?”

I couldn’t give the village leader an empty box, but I got a better idea. “Come back Christmas eve and I will give one to you.”

After he left, I took all the gifts off the tree, opened each one and put coins or Tylenol in the little containers. I rewrapped them and hung them back on the tree.

Everyone who asked after that was given a gift from the tree for Christmas.

Just as the wise men gave baby Jesus gifts, we, too give gifts on Christmas.

“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

So why the Christmas tree?  Because Christ died on the tree. Right?

Thanks for joining me today. There will be no posts the next two Saturdays since I’ll be travelling. Please check back on January 7.

Have a Merry Christmas,



About celestecharlene

I served as a medical missionary in West Africa for thirty years treating the sick and establishing health clinics in rural neglected areas.
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