Chrismon tradition: Decorated in white and gold symbols, this tree has a deeper meaning

December 19, 2009 8:47:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


While trees festooned in red and green and hung with shiny Santas and are what most people associate with Christmas, the serenely beautiful Chrismon tree glows with a special and sacred significance in many churches, and even some homes. 


One such tree is in First Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Columbus.  


Standing tall in the choir loft, the regal tree shimmers with handmade ornaments of white and gold. Each one carries a symbol or motif of Christian faith. It is flanked by two smaller trees topped by streaming gold ribbon. An array of more than 20 white poinsettia plants line the steps and stage in front of the trees.  


"If you look at a Chrismon tree, you''ll see all the symbols representing Christ''s birth, life, death and resurrection," said Ron McDougald, pastor. 


The decorating committee charged with setting up the display each year appreciates the camaraderie and responsibility. For them, it''s no hardship to get out the tall ladders and bring the decorations out of storage. They look forward to it. 


The hand-crafted ornaments bring back memories of the late Juanita Collins, a faithful church member who made many of them. 


"She did a lot of these by herself," recalls Jeanette VanValkenburg, who helped Collins and some of the other church faithful craft some of the meaningful ornaments years ago. 


McDougald said, "Some of those on the decorating committee represent the second and even third generation of their families who have been involved since the first Chrismon tree at the church. 






The ancient Christian motifs, called Chrismon, were used in the first centuries, often as secret symbols of Christianity. Some of the traditional symbols are monograms composed of various combinations of letters of the name Christ, or titles for Jesus, writes Dennis Bratcher, director of the Christian Resource Institute and The Voice. 


Some ornaments depict the sign of the fish, one of the earliest symbols of the person of Christ. The Greek cross, with all its extensions of equal length, symbolizes the extensive nature of Christ''s love. The shepherd''s crook symbolizes Christ as the good shepherd. 


The hardest part, the committee members at First Cumberland seem to agree, is taking the tree down to store away for another year. 


"We just really enjoy the decorating; there is a lot of fellowship," said Neil VanValkenburg. "It''s just an enjoyable time of year to be thinking of the meaning of Christmas. 


First Cumberland, like many churches in the area, will hold a Christmas Eve service. Families are invited to come between 6-7 p.m. to receive holy communion in the sanctuary at 2698 Ridge Road.

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.