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Treeís ornaments depict Christís story comment (0)

December 17, 2009

By Martine G. Bates


Chances are if you heard someone mention a Chrismon tree, then you would think he or she meant to say Christmas tree. But even though Chrismons are used to decorate Christmas trees, a Chrismon tree has its own unique meaning.

The word “chrismon” is a combination of the words “Christ” and “monogram” and literally means “Christ’s monogram.”  

Although chrisma (the plural form of chrismon) have been in existence since the early days of Christianity, the modern Chrismon tradition was developed in 1957 by Frances Kipps Spencer, a member of Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, Va.

According to an account written by Spencer, she was looking for an idea to use in decorating her church’s Christmas tree. Musing on the fact that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, she wondered how Mary might have celebrated His birthday in modern times.

“How would Mary have decorated a cake for Son Jesus? His name, yes. But what else would please Him? … Let the Child be honored, the Person He is!” Spencer wrote.

She began searching for symbols that would represent the name of Jesus. Spencer discovered a series of symbols called chrisma, mostly black and white drawings or carvings on jewelry, utensils, the walls of catacombs and the doors of buildings. The chrisma dated back to the earliest Christians.

For modern Baptists, the ichthus, or fish, is perhaps the best-known chrisma. Used as a symbol for Christianity as early as the first century, the ichthus is still used today on bumper stickers and clothing and in business logos.

Spencer adapted the drawings and carvings to create a dozen different ornaments that told the story of Christ and thought her labor was complete.

To her surprise, however, the project took on a life of its own.

“We found that the more we grew as Christians, the more we had to say about our Lord,” she wrote of her church.

After three years of adding ornaments to its Chrismon tree, “we realized that our tree would never be completed. There is always something new to say about God, always a better way to say it.”

Spencer’s handmade ornaments were in combinations of white and gold; white was for the purity and perfection of Christ, while gold symbolized His majesty and glory. Most Chrismons continue that tradition.

Some purists insist that if any other colors are used, then the ornaments are not Chrismons at all but simply Christian symbols.

The use of Chrismons has spread beyond decorating trees and even beyond the Christmas holiday as they also are used as table decorations, in shadow box displays and even on wedding cakes.

When looking for decorations for Christmas, the shopper is unlikely to find Chrismons to purchase.

According to tradition, Chrismons cannot be created for profit or produced commercially; they must be handmade. Churches often have individuals or groups in the congregation make the ornaments for their trees.

After developing the concept, Spencer, who died in 1990 and never personally profited from it, spent several years going around sharing the story of Chrismon.

In addition to speaking tours, she also wrote several books detailing the Chrismon tradition and providing patterns for the Chrismons.

The books are still available in some libraries and for purchase on her church’s Web site, www.chrismon.org.
Some Chrismon patterns, developed by others, may be found via a search of the Internet.

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