Christmas trees can be a great tool for catechesis whether at home or in a classroom. This lesson plan will help you unpack the symbolism of the Christmas tree customs with your students. They will be able to see their trees in a new way and even be able to teach their parents about what Christmas trees are meant to remind us of during Advent and the season of Christmas.
The format for this lesson plan is based on the process in the book, Christ in the Classroom.
Christmas Tree Lesson Objectives
Students will be able to (SWBAT) list the symbolism of a Christmas Tree.
SWBAT explain the the true meaning of Christmas using a Christmas Tree.
Students will feel (SWF) excited to tell their parents about what they now know about the Christmas Tree.
Christmas Tree Lesson Activities
Sign the classic Christmas carol “O Christmas Tree” (“O Tannenbaum”) or find a recording of the song to play in class. Print out the lyrics or post them in front of the room. Ask students to explain what they think this song teaches us about our Christmas trees and the meaning of Christmas.
(Some versions of the song use its original German name, “O Tannenbaum.” A Tannenbaum is an fir tree and the song expressed the symbolic meaning evergreen trees had during the wintertime.)
Presentation: Christmas Tree Symbolism
Decorating the home with evergreen trees and wreaths is an ancient custom appearing in many different cultures. The evergreen trees, which do not lose their leaves during winter, are a reminder of new life and the coming of Spring.
Christians now place and decorate Christmas trees in their homes in celebration of Christmas as well. Here is as list of some of the Christian symbolism in a Christmas tree:
- Evergreen = Pine and fir trees are evergreen and reminds us of the everlasting life we share with God through the Death and Resurrection of Christ.
- Evergreen Tree = The Christmas tree itself reminds us of the Tree of Life in the Genesis Creation story. Jesus is the new Tree of Life and the source of everlasting life.
- Christmas Lights = Candles and lights on trees remind us that Jesus is the light of the world especially during the long dark days of winter.
- Ornaments = For many years people decorated their evergreen trees with red apples and for Christians this was a further reminder of the fruit of the Tree of Life in the story of Adam and Eve. Ornaments come in all shapes, sizes, and designs today and each decoration can have unique meaning for families.
- Star = Stars are often placed on the top of Christmas trees as a reminder of the Star of Bethlehem that led the Magi to find Jesus in the Epiphany story.
- Angel = An angel is sometimes placed on the top of the tree rather than a star as a reminder of the angels in the fields who announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds.
You may also choose to show this video which includes a brief explanation of each symbol within the Christmas tree:
Christmas Tree Practice Activities
Christmas Tree Matching Game
Have students create their own Christmas tree matching game using the template found at the bottom of this page. They can quiz each other using flashcards or play a game of memory using the symbols cards and the meaning cards.
Christmas Tree Ornament Meditation Worksheet
Many families decorate their Christmas trees with ornaments that the children have made or that mark special events in different years of their lives. The designs remind us of many different things about Christmas. Have the students pick one of their favorite Christmas tree ornaments and explain to a group or the entire class what the ornament can teach us about Christmas. They can either bring this ornament in to class for a show and tell activity or have them draw the ornament and then present it’s meaning using their drawing.
Use this Christmas Tree Ornament Worksheet to help them prepare for the presentation about their ornament:
Read the “Ornament Enlightenment” Christmas Story
In this Christmas Story, a boy learns various lessons about the true meaning of Christmas through fantastical encounters with the ornaments on his Christmas tree. Read the story and have the students make suggestions about what other ornaments and lessons he could learn while picking up the tree.
“O Christ, O Christ” Prayer
Integrate prayer into the lesson by returning to the “O Christmas Tree” song. Instead of singing about the tree, have students compose a song as a prayer that sings to Christ instead. What praise can we give to Jesus during this season of preparation for or celebration of Christmas?
Christmas Tree Proof (Assessment)
Have students draw and label a Christmas Tree and all its symbolism. They can draw lines to each symbol with a short description around the outside of the tree.
Challenge them to share what they learned about Christmas trees with their parents after class. Give the parents an “Ask Me About” Handout to encourage this conversation in the car or at home. Check in with them in the next class to see if their parents were surprised by what the kids taught them about the symbolism of a Christmas tree.
To learn more about the structure and approach in this lesson plan, check out Christ in the Classroom: Lesson Planning for the Heart and Mind.