Oh, Christmas Tree

The holidays are over, and most of us are now back to work. But for me there are some lingering memories—and lessons—from Christmas 1996. One of the Colson family Christmas traditions is to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, the great Frank Capra film starring Jimmy Stewart. I don’t need to tell you the plot. There’s hardly an American alive who isn’t familiar with the story of George Bailey, the suicidal man who was shown by an angel what a wonderful life he’d actually led. For me, the most electrifying moment in the film is when George runs out on a bridge on Christmas Eve and prays: “Please God, I want to live again.” What a contrast this film is to another holiday movie my family watched. Three days before Christmas, I picked up the newspaper and read a rave review of a TV movie called The Christmas Tree, about a nun named Sister Anthony. “A warm holiday drama,” the reviewer enthused, “calculated to tap comforting memories in its audience.” The story of a nun would surely have a powerful Christian message, I thought. And so, persuaded by the review, I gathered the Colson clan to watch the film. Well, if you watched The Christmas Tree, you were, I’m sure, as shocked as I was. The story, it turned out, was about an abandoned, psychologically disturbed child who is adopted by nuns. The child comes into contact with a particular tree on the convent grounds. She eventually enters the sisters’ order and spends the rest of her life caring for the tree. When Sister Anthony is asked what turned her life around, she responds, “It was the tree.” When another sister leaves the convent, she promises to write to Sister Anthony—so she can read the letters to the tree. There’s one particularly symbolic scene in which Sister Anthony is shown hugging the tree. During the entire film there wasn’t a single mention of God, Jesus Christ, or the true meaning of Christmas. Halfway through the film, a Christian friend called me. At that very moment, she said, her husband was explaining to their two daughters the dangers of what they were watching on the screen. I wonder how many other parents were that discerning. These two Christmas films, It’s a Wonderful Life and The Christmas Tree, mark the changing epochs of American life. Frank Capra’s classic was unabashedly Christian. The citizens of Bedford Falls pray openly to the one, true God. The birth of Christ is celebrated. The angel Clarence is identified as a messenger of God. As for The Christmas Tree—pure, naturalistic propaganda. The film taught that nature is all there is and that we should bow down and worship it. Nature is even shown as the driving force behind Roman Catholic nuns. What blasphemy! What should we do about films like this? Do what my friend did. Help your children sort through the film’s subtle messages. In post-Christian America, there is no greater task for parents than to teach discernment. And in the end, that may be the most valuable Christmas present you’ll ever give your kids.


Chuck Colson


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