January 23, 2022

The Editor speaks: The Singing Christmas Tree

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Our lead Front Page Story today is “

“A spectacular, snowy, singing Christmas tree” a critique of The Singing Christmas Tree spectacular presented by The First Assembly of God last Saturday and Sunday. This was the eighth time it has been staged by this church and the first time at The Lions Centre.

For those of us who attended, it was a fabulous event and full praise to all of the many people involved in the production. I know the hard work  that goes in in order to bring something huge like this into being.

If you believe our Cayman version is spectacular, America’s evangelical mega churches often go one better. One of them has TWO Singing Trees.

Not content with just church choirs who perform a musical celebration while standing inside an enormous Christmas tree platform that reaches to the ceiling; they accompany it with extravagant light shows, dancing church members, and, if the tree(s) is/are outside, fireworks!

It is oversized, ostentatious and one glitzy production. It becomes then a strange blend of the sacred and the secular.

Thank goodness The First Assembly of God has got the balance just right.

Where did the Singing Tree come from?

According to the website Slate.com:

The first Singing Christmas Tree likely took place in 1933 when a music professor at Belhaven College, a Christian liberal arts college in Jackson, Miss., teamed up with an engineer to craft a small wooden tree frame for the school’s all-female choir to stand in as it performed a series of Christmas carols. The concert took place outside so that members of the community could enjoy the event, and outdoor Singing Christmas Trees began to pop up on college campuses and in city parks in other cities throughout the South during the 1940s and ‘50s.

Churches, most often Baptist congregations, got in on the act in the 1960s and ‘70s, setting up Christmas tree platforms inside their congregations and inviting community members to their productions. Most of these productions were simple affairs—the church choir was arranged on a tiered structure draped in garland boughs and red ribbons. There it would sing through a medley of Christmas hymns. The pastor would read the account of Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of Luke while a handful of church members re-enacted the nativity scene. Nativity plays have always figured prominently in American churches’ holiday celebrations. But the Singing Christmas Tree pageants that became popular in evangelical circles in the late 20th century inadvertently brought the season’s secular trappings directly into churches’ Christmas observances in a way that dramatic recreations of the first Christmas in Bethlehem had previously avoided.

How did the productions get so grandiose? The 1970s and ‘80s were exciting times for conservative Protestantism. Millions of Americans got saved and filled the pews of rapidly expanding evangelical congregations. Armed with enviable budgets and crowded with many first-time church members, these congregations rethought some of their traditional offerings and also their strategies for reaching potential converts. One recruiting tactic: showy musical productions for Christmas, Easter, and even the Fourth of July. These became regular events at many evangelical churches: mishmash extravaganzas that wrapped the gospel in some of the features of the secular entertainment culture.

With the rise of megachurches in the 1980s, Singing Christmas Tree pageants expanded in scale. Ensconced in arena-sized “worship centers,” evangelical megachurches required a Christmas pageant that could play to the last row of the multitiered balcony. The Christmas tree platforms grew larger, in many churches reaching more than four stories in the air with a high soprano perched alone at the tree’s peak just short of the rafters. The trees also became flashier, festooned with thousands of lights that often twinkled and flared in time with the music. And the staid and traditional Nativity play now shared center stage with elaborate costume dramas usually depicting the plight of a wayward soul who had forgotten—or turned from—the true meaning of Christmas.

Perhaps none is more famous than the Singing Christmas Tree at Memphis’ Bellevue Baptist Church, one of the nation’s largest congregations. Bellevue debuted its Christmas pageant in 1976, and it has set the standard for megachurch Singing Christmas Tree productions ever since.

The Singing Christmas Tree at First Baptist Orlando, a megachurch in the shadow of Disney World, outshines its Memphis rival. Boasting not one, but two Singing Christmas Trees, the twin pines in Orlando reach to 40 feet high and twinkle with more than 250,000 lights.

To read the whole article that describes a production that takes place in a crowded 1950s-era train station and another that boasts an attendance of 60,000 people, go to: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2011/12/the_singing_tree_how_did_megachurch_christmas_spectaculars_get_so_glitzy_.html

Wikipedia says the singing Christmas tree concept has spread to Canada, the Philippines, South Korea, Switzerland and Sri Lanka. Perhaps we should tell them about Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands?!

IMAGE: Singing Christmas Tree, Cayman Islands, 2018.

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