During the last years of the Revolutionary War, in one of our colonies, a young boy named Jebediah (Jeb from here on) became lost in a heavily wooded area near his home. It was mid-December, and he had ventured forth in search of pine boughs used in Christmas decorations. Although he had been in the forest before, the fact that he lost track of time and the sudden emergence of a snowstorm left him trapped.

After wandering aimlessly and becoming numbed by the biting cold, Jeb began to think he’d never get back to his family. Then, when all seemed lost, he saw a flicker of light in the distance. As he walked in its direction, the light became brighter. He began to rub his eyes in disbelief. The light was coming from a huge fir tree whose branches held numerous lit candles. At the top of the tree was a cross.

The next thing he knew, two large men grabbed him and took him into what was a campsite. Oh no, he thought, after seeing the men’s uniforms and hats. The Hessians. He had been captured by the mercenary troops of Britain’s King George III. Because the war had dragged on for so long and was so financially costly, it had become very unpopular with the English people, who were no longer willing to accept the fact that their American “relatives” were being killed for the same rights and liberties they held most dear. As a result, the King’s European German subjects had been sent to America to replace the “Regulars.”

Jeb had heard rumors of how these “foreigners” hated Americans and took no prisoners. As he entered the camp, he feared the worst. In the next few hours, not only would these rumors be proven false, but a new, glorious Christmas tradition was about to be born. The Hessians took the boy to a blazing fire, helped him get warm, and offered him a hot supper. A soldier named Hans, who spoke English, told him not to be afraid-that in the morning, he’d be taken back to the entrance of the forest.

After supper, Jeb asked Hans about the lighted tree. Hans answered that it was the Christmas Tree-an old German tradition. Every year, during the third week of December, German families decorated their living room with a fir tree covered with red ribbons and lighted candles and topped with a cross. Later, presents were placed under the tree, and on Christmas Eve, everyone would gather to sing carols and open gifts. Before he drifted off to sleep, Jeb learned that Hans and the other Hessians didn’t want to be there, and with Christmas approaching, they longed to be home. They didn’t hate Americans-they hated fighting them. And Hans reminded the boy that the Christmas Tree was also a symbol of peace.

The men from Jeb’s village were tired from searching for him all night and into the morning. Then, around 10 AM, one of the villagers noticed a small figure approaching. It was Jeb, and he seemed to be dragging something. Upon closer examination, it was a small fir tree; a gift from Hans. It wasn’t long before Jeb’s village, and then the whole colony learned about his adventure. People were so moved by the Hessians’ compassion that to show their gratitude, they brought fir trees into their homes and decorated them with candles, red ribbons, and a cross.

The war ended shortly thereafter. The Hessians would return home, Americans would begin to enjoy the fruits of their victory, and Jeb would grow up to become a successful farmer and politician. By the time he grew old, the Christmas Tree had become a tradition throughout the country. So, as you glory in the beauty of the tree in your family parlor, remember its origins. Remember Jeb and Hans-and remember the tree as a symbol of what Christmas truly represents-Peace on Earth, Good Will to Everyone!