A Christmas Tree Festival can be a wonderful opportunity to highlight the Christian element of Christmas and show what the Church has to offer. Some churches aim to use the trees to help visitors understand the Christmas Story a little better. They see it as their job to promote the Christian side of Christmas asking who is going to do it if they don’t? As the majority of Christmas Tree Festivals are hosted in churches it is easy to understand and probably expected if they include at least elements of the Nativity Story. People are more likely to go to church at Christmas time so it is an excellent opportunity to promote ‘the reason for the season’ at a time when people are more receptive to hearing about the birth of Jesus Christ and all that He has to offer.
Below are some ideas to help a Christmas Tree Festival have a Christian perspective and be so much more than decorated Christmas trees.
Carol Services are a natural part of the Church’s calendar that are generally well attended by more than the usual congregation. Christmas is a time when people enjoy singing the traditional Christmas carols and if a Carol Service can take place as part of a Christmas Tree Festival it gives the service more atmosphere and visitors another reason to go to Church.
This service can be an excellent time to help explain the meaning of the Christmas story and how God’s love and care can support and guide throughout the whole year.
As well as singing traditional carols some churches might like to introduce some of the more modern ones and even use You Tube clips or other media to help tell the message in a more contemporary way.
Christmas Tree Festivals are very popular with all ages and children love to see the trees sparkling. It adds to their excitement of this special season. Local children may already have been involved in making some of the decorations to go on the trees through their schools, uniformed organisations or hobby groups. Younger children will be brought along with adults to see the trees and sometimes will welcome staying a little longer to take part in any crafts put on especially for them. This is an opportunity to make some crafts that are linked with the Christmas story. If they are decorations they could be hung on a tree especially for this activity or taken away to put on a Christmas tree at home.
Anyone working with children will have to be DBS [formally CRB] checked if they are likely to be left with children without their parents or carers. If you have volunteers for this activity who haven’t had the checks make sure that the accompanying adult stays with the child [ren] throughout.
A number of craft ideas can be found by clicking on the Pinterest icon. They could be used during Messy Church Services too.
Visitors like to see the clergy around when they visit and this can lead to all sorts of conversations and opportunities. They might have questions about the building to wanting to know more about Christianity to asking about arranging a baptism.
The Rector, Vicar, Minister or members of the congregation could be available to chat to people. If such a big event is taking place in his Church the Vicar would probably want to be there anyway and meet some of the visitors. It could also be known that they are available to pray with anyone who would like this. Chatting to visitors as they walk round in an informal atmosphere can lead to some new relationships and opportunities for the church to help or be involved in.
If being on duty to talk to visitors is something people haven’t done before it might be useful to have a training session to go through helpful things to say [or not say] in delicate situations. You might also like to cover the basics of how to explain the Christian faith in readiness for anyone asking about belief too.
Displays linked with Christmas or Christianity could be put up. These could be put together by an artistic person, a home group or someone who can express the theme so that the visitors are attracted to take notice of it and read it. If people can go away and think a little more about what they have seen about Christmas and Christianity in the Christmas Tree Festival they may be inspired to return and find out more.
It is good to make displays eye catching and simple so that they stand out to be noticed and read. Using everyday language and things people can associate with as well as humour is appealing. Take great care to make them well paying attention to detail and use good quality photos and posters that are current, relevant and in perfect condition.
If space and technology allows there are a number of Christian DVDs that could be played during the Christmas Tree Festival. These range from Cartoon Nativity to Introduction to the Christian faith e.g. Alpha. Other themed DVDs from some of the charities supported during the Christmas Tree Festival could also be shown e.g. Tearfund and Christian Aid. The screen could be positioned in a quiet corner or a refreshment area so visitors have something to watch while drinking their coffee and eating their mince pies. It could also be amongst the trees as part of a display. [Don’t forget to check where the electric sockets are and do a risk assessment to see if any extension leads could cause a health and safety hazard.]
Churches with the expertise could even make their own videos of what they get up to and what they do in the community or what Christmas means to them. Another alternative is to share some real and recent stories of how the Christian faith has helped members of the congregation. People love to hear stories and especially so if they know those involved. Having local people talk about local happenings can be very attractive. With mobile phones taking good quality video and so much free software available to download, editing is a task that can be done on a home computer or laptop making the job an easy experience.
Fair Trade Stall
At a time when people are looking to buy Christmas presents having a stall with fairly traded goods for sale offers something a little different. It is also good to know that what has been bought will not only be a delight to receive but is also providing the person who has grown or made it a fair wage. A lot of the charities who are involved with these types of goods often have local representatives who are willing to travel to different venues and look after the stall or take and fetch the goods for members of the congregation to sell. Buying a Christmas present that has been fairly traded shows that someone cares enough to support some of the world’s poorer people. It is also a Christian witness and would hopefully encourage others to buy fairly traded goods too.
Gifts to take away
As well as having trees decorated with a Christian angle a Church could also give away booklets explaining the meaning of Christmas and the Christian faith – Life Words, CPO, The Bible Society and Scripture Union all produce a variety of good ones for both adults and children. Children are delighted to be given something especially for them as they go out and can be very persuasive in getting the adults to return to the Christmas Tree Festival or church again.
If there aren’t any Stewards to give the booklets or leaflets out they could be left in a pile for people to help themselves to with a notice printed to encourage them.
Some interactive trees can be very popular and a lovely way of helping to bring people closer to God.
A prayer tree
Having a container of round shaped cardboard baubles that people can write a prayer on and then hang on a tree can be very poignant. Even if only a few words are penned to hang on a special tree there can be a connection between God and that person. It shows that there is a need to want to reach out to someone greater.
You will need a table or somewhere flat at a comfortable height to write on and big enough to place the container of decorations on. This is normally a very popular tree so keeping a good supply of decorations to keep topping up the container is a good idea. Instead of cutting out your own decorations some gift tags may be a suitable alternative.
Alongside the container of decorations you will need some pens and some more available for when they have disappeared [as they always do].
If you are making your own decorations to use these can be made months in advance.
A memorial or remembering tree
A Christmas tree dedicated to people hanging the names of their departed loved ones on is hugely attractive. Have a laminated notice explaining the idea and reason for the tree and then as with the prayer tree have a table with a container or dish with some decorations in next to the tree. A table that is tall enough that people can lean on to write the names is ideal. You will need a supply of pens too.
Having a Steward who is sensitive to bereavement issues could be ‘on duty’ near this tree and available to talk and pick up on conversations and pastoral opportunities.
A thank you tree
This is the same as the above two trees but dedicated to people writing something they would like to thank God for on a decoration and then hanging it on the tree. Again this is very popular and points people to think of something to be grateful for when perhaps they only normally think about prayers when needing help.
If opting to have a Prayer tree, a Remembering tree and a Thank you tree it is advisable to spread them out around the church so that you don’t have a crowd of people condensed into one area with others then missing it out because there is no room for them.
It could be made known of what happens to the prayers after the Christmas Tree Festival. It may be that the minister or a prayer group will go through the prayers and offer them to God once more. Visitors could be grateful if they know this before writing their prayers. If the prayers are going to be prayed again allow plenty of time as you will probably be surprised at how many prayers have been hung on the tree.
Having a large nativity scene somewhere prominent can help bring the Christmas Story to life and encourage visitors to think about the first Christmas and question what Christmas is all about. There are so many nativity sets to buy of all shapes and sizes from the traditional to the cartoon styles. The prices are as varied depending on the quality, size and where and how they were made. The sets from ecclesiastical suppliers can be quite expensive to buy but tend to be treasured for years. As an alternative or an extra, some talented members could be given a project to make their own nativity scene instead. Many people will have one stored away somewhere and are more than welcome for it to be used in church. If the Christmas Tree Festival theme is ‘Nativity’ there could well be dozens of different nativity sets placed under or next to the Christmas trees as part of the decorations for those trees. This adds a lot more for the visitors to admire. A life sized nativity can be very impressive too and look wonderful placed in the sanctuary, a side chapel or a porch.
For churches feeling more adventurous members of the congregation could dress up as biblical characters. Mary, Joseph and the shepherds along with the wise men could wander around the church greeting the visitors and introducing them to Jesus. Some may even like to venture out into the town centre or local shops. Trying to decide who will be which characters could be a lot of fun too. Churches who participate in ‘Open the Book’ taking the bible stories into local schools will probably already have the costumes to use: if not raid the kitchen drawers for tea towels and borrow dressing gowns for the shepherds and have fun. The local press may well be pleased to report about a living nativity so keep them informed and invite them along.
Prayer before, during and after the Christmas Tree Festival will help to make the most of the opportunities a Christmas Tree Festival can provide. It will enable you to be guided and supported in all that you do. Ideally churches will be hosting a Christmas Tree Festival as the result of prayer and will want to keep God at the centre of this event.
Some churches pray for the Christmas Tree Festival as it is planned throughout the year, others have an evening of prayer especially for the Festival just before it starts. It is good to walk round the church and pray for those who have been involved in decorating each tree and for the visitors who will come to see the trees. All areas of the Festival from safety, publicity, refreshments, donations, stewards etc. can be prayed for.
If visitors have received a warm welcome and enjoyed seeing the Christmas Trees they might like to come back again to the Christmas Services. A list of these could be printed in the programme or on a septate flyer and given out to people as they leave. A Steward could also point out the Christmas Service dates and times as the visitors go out and personally invite them to come along. Don’t forget to invite the children to any services especially for them e.g. Christingle Service.
When putting these services together it might be worth bearing in mind that some visitors from the Christmas Tree Festival may turn up and not be used to church services. Try to make them relevant to everyday life and use language that they will be able to understand.
When the Christmas Tree Festival is open it makes sense to have some members of the congregation on duty to welcome all the visitors. Giving a warm welcome can make the visitors experience all the more enjoyable. From a friendly ‘hello’ to answering questions or explaining some of the stories behind the Christmas trees can make all the difference. Some stewards may also end up listening to various problems and requests so being a Steward is a key role within the Festival. Some training before the Christmas Tree Festival may be a good idea highlighting what to say or not to say in certain situations. As the visitors are welcomed it is showing God’s love in action.
The number of Stewards needed may depend on the size of the church and where you would like them positioned and when. By the entrance and exit [which may be the same] are the key positions for Stewards as well as near any valuable items [silver on the altar] or decorations. If an entrance fee is charged someone will be collecting the money as visitors go in but if there are any reciprocals for donations around the church then have a Steward near these too.
A rota can be put together so that the Stewards role is shared amongst the congregation and to check that all the slots will be covered. . It might be appropriate to have more Stewards on duty when you are expecting the most visitors. Being on duty with another member of the church is a good time to get to know each other too and many friendships have grown through meeting on Stewards duty at a Christmas Tree Festival.
Stewards will also need to be aware of the health and safety regulations for the church and what to do in an emergency e.g. medical or fire. Ask the person responsible for health and safety in the church to do a risk assessment and share the results with the Stewards. Knowing where the First Aid kit and fire extinguishers are is also essential for those on duty. It cannot be stressed enough of how important it is to take these issues very seriously.
Having the clergy and/or stewards wear badges of identification can be very useful so that visitors know who to approach if they need help or have a question. There is a good choice of badges to choose from. Some like lanyards around necks while others prefer a pin on badge. Either can allow you to personalise them and add Stewards names as well as the name of your Christmas Tree Festival.
For the Stewards to stand out even more amongst the visitors, a ‘uniform’ could be purchased e.g. a sash or a fleece or a sweatshirt. They can all be the same style and colour or a variety of styles but the same colour and even have the name or logo of your Christmas Tree Festival printed on them. Search your local businesses or look on the internet for plenty of choice.
If deciding to have a theme for a Christmas Tree Festival there are various ones that can be completely Christian and work very well for both church members and outside organisations. Some clear guidelines can be very helpful so that everyone knows what the aims are and how the trees are to be decorated within the theme. Decorators can then work within the guidelines knowing what is expected, encouraged or not allowed. Experience shows that these are respected and people don’t have a problem with highlighting the Christian element of Christmas.
A Christmas Tree Festival brings into church many people who wouldn’t normally come through the doors and if they are given a warm welcome they could be pleasantly surprised and may be interested in discovering what else the church has to offer. This is a good time to produce or update any existing leaflets about what goes on in your Church. You may be a very busy church with lots going on throughout the week but not many outside those who go the activities actually know about them.
There is a huge selection of templates on the internet for such leaflets so there is no excuse for not letting your visitors know of what goes on within your church.
As well as producing a leaflet or flyer to advertise events and regular groups have relevant posters pinned on the notice boards. These should be up to date, in good condition and strategically placed.