The Legend of St Boniface
To reflect on experiences of fear. To appreciate the significance of the Christmas tree
by The Revd Alan M. Barker
Suitable for Key Stage 2
To reflect upon experiences of fear and to appreciate the significance of the 'Christmas tree'.
Preparation and materials
- A miniature Christmas tree growing in a pot or a Christmas tree decoration.
- Read through the story of St Boniface below so you can tell it with feeling and imagination.
- The story could be told by a narrator and mimed by a group of children.
- Note: With its story of the Christmas tree, you might wish to use this assembly at Christmas time instead. However, we're offering it now to provide a different focus, on the legend behind the tradition rather than the Christmas tree itself.
- Ask whether any of the children will have a Christmas tree in their homes at Christmas time. Will it be a real one? What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a 'real' tree? The aroma and appearance of a real tree are attractive. However, they can drop their needles and often die after Christmas because their roots have been cut.
- Reflect that while the children are attracted to one small tree, many big trees growing together in a forest can sometimes seem frightening - especially when they are dark and shadowy. Are the children ever frightened of shadows?
Say that a long time ago some people were especially frightened of large and ancient trees. They thought that powerful spirits lived within them. Rituals were performed to please the spirits so they wouldn't harm anyone. Invite the children to consider whether there was any real reason to be frightened, and introduce the legend that tells of the first 'Christmas tree'.
The Legend of St Boniface
Retold by Alan Barker
Forests can be frightening places, especially when you are alone and it's getting dark. But Boniface wasn't frightened. He was a Christian who believed that God would keep him safe. Boniface wanted others to trust in God as well. So he journeyed across Germany teaching people about Jesus.
Often his journeys took him through forests. One winter's day the wind shook the branches of the trees so that they looked like long arms reaching out to grab him. Some made eerie creaking noises as they moved. Sometimes there was a sharp crack as two branches hit against each other. It seemed as if the trees were alive!
Boniface shivered and drew his cloak around him. The shadows were getting darker. Soon it would be night. Boniface often travelled the forest by the light of the moon. He had often heard the howling of wolves and the screeching of owls. But suddenly he was startled by a different kind of cry.
Above the noise of the wind he heard a terrified scream, and the sound of voices chanting. Boniface drew back into the shadows as the voices came nearer. A group of hooded figures dragged a struggling boy along the track. They stopped beneath a large tree. The chanting grew louder. They pushed the boy to the ground and Boniface was horrified to see one of the figures raise an axe high in the air. The boy screamed again in terror.
Boniface could stand it no longer. Racing from his hiding place he seized the axe and helped the boy to his feet. The figures surrounded him menacingly. 'You shall die for this,' they hissed. 'The spirits of the trees demand life, and they will now take yours.'
'I am not afraid', replied Boniface, 'and you should not be frightened of the spirits of the trees. Look! I will show you that they have no power.'
Taking the axe, Boniface began to cut at the trunk of the ancient oak tree that the people worshipped. They drew back, believing he would come to harm. Eventually, the tree crashed to the ground and Boniface stood there wiping his brow and smiling.
Everyone was amazed. 'What is this new magic?' they asked one another.
'It's not magic,' said Boniface. 'It is the strength that comes from faith in God. God, who made the trees, has sent his Son so that we need never be afraid.' As he sat on the upturned tree telling the story of Jesus' birth, Boniface noticed a tiny fir tree growing in the soil around its roots.
He paused and pointed to it. 'Look,' he said. 'If you wish to have a sacred tree, here is one. Its branches point to heaven and to God who has made the world. Its leaves are evergreen and a sign of eternal life. It is the tree of peace for you to make homes from its wood.'
It was now night and the moon was shining. Quietly they gazed at the tiny tree bathed in silvery light. The wind had stopped and everything in the forest was still.
- Were any aspects of the story frightening? Invite the children to reflect quietly upon times when they have been afraid. Can the children remember and understand the qualities that St Boniface saw in the fir tree? At the centre of our Christmas celebrations is a tree that points us to God and to the peace found by those who trust in him.
- Point out that many people, including Christians, have rediscovered the value of nature and the way that God speaks to us through the natural world. We wouldn't want to chop down a huge oak tree today, but in the legend it was a way of showing the people that they didn't have to kill a young boy to please the tree.
Time for reflection
Thank you for trees.
Thank you that there are so many different types of tree
and that they provide oxygen for us to breathe,
fuel for us to burn,
homes for many different creatures,
shelter and shade,
and beauty for us to look at and enjoy.
Help us, like St Boniface,
to stand up for what is right
and help us to grow like a strong oak tree,
and to point to you and your love
like a tall, straight Christmas tree.
'O Christmas tree' (Carol, Gaily Carol, 41)
'Think of a world' (Come and Praise, 17)