Lighting candles on the tree has become a special Christmas tradition

Fritz would always begin his annual Christmas tree-lighting by igniting the 3-foot-long combination candle lighter/snuffer and then breaking into song with a Christmas carol.

As he used the flame at the end of the rod to light the candles one by one on the live Christmas tree in the living room of his house, built in Leo in 1871, he would continue leading the dozen or so friends sitting on couches and chairs in more carols — “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem” — all the while lighting the white candles from top to bottom.

Then he’d have the lights turned out so everyone could enjoy the enchanting effects of the candlelight and the a cappella singing. With little delay, though, (safety always a primary concern) he’d use the lighting rod’s bell-shaped snuffer to work his way from bottom to top, candle by candle, extinguishing each one and finally ending the caroling with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

My wife and I have been guests at these pre-Christmas gatherings for many years, since first meeting Fritz and Sharon. They would invite us and several other couples to one of three or four such gatherings they would host in their home. Everyone would come on a particular December evening and gather in the living room. After the traditional lighting and caroling, we’d adjourn to the dining room to enjoy Christmas cookies and cheese balls, coffee and hot chocolate and whatever else might have been brought by guests. And we’d chat and laugh and get to know each other a little better.

Fritz and Sharon have been doing this for half a century, and we’ve felt blessed to be included in such a special, personal celebration of Jesus’ birthday.

Thursday was the most recent of such tree-lighting parties hosted by Fritz and Sharon. It was the only one they held this year. Fritz had someone substitute for him in the lighting-and-snuffing process the past couple of years, although he still led the singing and directed the festivities.

It is believed the Christmas tree tradition began in Germany in the 16th Century, when Christians brought trees into their homes and decorated them. It is also believed that the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther was the first to add lighted candles to a tree.

The story goes that while he was walking home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling through the evergreens. So he tried to duplicate that effect with lighted candles attached to the branches of a tree he erected in the main room of his home.

Thursday’s lighting in the quaint old house in Leo, warmly reflected in the candlelight and caroling voices many such special times we have enjoyed through the years. It began with a reading of the Christmas story based on the Bible’s account in Luke, Chapter 2.

And, of course, all the memories of Christmases past and those awaiting us tomorrow and all the Christmases we may have yet ahead are based on that story of the baby in the manger and why He came and what He means to us all.

And we thank Fritz and Sharon for making that celebration so much more meaningful to us through the years.

Kerry Hubartt is a former editor of The News-Sentinel.