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The meaning of Chrismon

Chrismon tree at The Church at Horseshoe Bay

The Rev. Malcom McQueen (center, back) of The Church at Horseshoe Bay with church members Karyn Mason (left), Joshuah Mason, Von Brookshire, and Gerry Mason, all of Meadowlakes. The Chrismon tree in the background is a much smaller version of the 18-foot tree the church customarily used to set up in front of its sanctuary windows, which look out over the community from atop Thanksgiving Mountain. Today, a large mesquite and granite cross take the place of the tree, now at home in the narthex surrounded by poinsettias each holiday season. Staff photos by David Bean

Sequined silver and gold doves hang upside down in a descent from heaven. Ornaments in the shapes of crosses, Greek letters, butterflies, and fish all in gold, white, and silver sparkle against the deep evergreen of a cone-shaped tree in the narthex of The Church at Horseshoe Bay. It is not a Christmas tree; it is a Chrismon tree, the term an amalgam of the words Christ and monogram. Together the decorations and even the tree itself tell a piece of the story of Jesus.

Frances Kipps Spencer of Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, Virginia, created the first Chrismon tree in 1957. Spencer wanted to decorate a tree with spiritually connected ornaments rather than colorful globes, snowmen, and Santas. The evergreen tree remained as the backdrop, symbolizing everlasting life, a tenet of the Christian faith.

The tradition took root, and Chrismon trees grew to become a staple in Methodist, Presbyterian, and interdenominational Protestant churches such as The Church at Horseshoe Bay, 600 Hi Ridge Road. 

The Rev. Malcolm McQueen, who has been pastor at the Horseshoe Bay church for six years, remembers his first Chrismon tree. He was about 19 years old.

“I came into faith in my college years attending a Presbyterian church,” McQueen recalled. “My first Advent of worship, there was a Chrismon tree. It was powerful in a spiritual sense for me.”

The pastor at the church McQueen was attending explained each symbol to him, unfolding the story of Christ in a new way. 

“It really helped deepen, not just my worship experience through Advent and Christmas, but my knowledge of what Christ is and what he has done and will do in the future.” 

Now a pastor himself, McQueen explains some of the many symbols of a Chrismon tree: 

DOVE 

A symbol of peace, the dove is depicted in flight and shown pointing down to represent the Holy Spirit, which appeared as a dove over the River Jordan when Jesus was baptized. 

FISH

One of the oldest Christian symbols, the fish symbolizes the letters in the Greek word for fish: ichthus. Together, the letters mean Jesus Christ Son of God Savior.

IHS

These are the first three letters of Jesus in Greek.

THE CROSS

Symbolizes that Christians believe Jesus died on the cross to save everyone from their sins. 

THE JERUSALEM CROSS 

A symbol of unity of Christians worldwide. 

BUTTERFLY

A symbol of transformation and the immortal soul.

THE CROSS CROSSLET

Combines four Greek crosses to represent the spread of Christianity to the four corners of the earth. 

THE ANGEL OF GOD

Represents the angelic announcements at the birth and later the resurrection of Christ.

THE SON OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

Symbolizes that, like the sun, Christ the Son of God, is the source of light and life. 

IOTA CHI

The first letters in the Greek word for Christ

Other symbols include a cup, the symbol of Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane; a crown for the kingship of Christ and his victory over sin and death; a shell with drops of water representing baptism; a lyre, representing King David’s musical ability and the joy of praising the Lord; grapes for communion; and many more. 

suzanne@thepicayune.com

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