When I was growing up, we didn't have a Christmas tree in my house. We also didn't do the whole Santa thing. My Dad didn't believe in the pagan aspects of the holiday, so our family focused instead on the less commercialized and more religious parts of Christmas - the REAL reason for the season. Looking back, I don't feel like I missed out on anything. My holiday memories include spending Christmas Eve at my grandparents house every year with my cousins and aunts and uncles, and participating in church activities; such as the long hours spent practicing for church Christmas plays, or the midnight candle light service that we attended with my grandmother every year. And I have especially fond memories of waking up on Christmas morning each year and running into the living room with my brother and sister to see the gifts (addressed from Mom and Dad, not Santa) waiting for us.
But my most vivid holiday memory is from Christmas Day in 1989, when my Dad threw a Christmas tree out of a church in Prospect, TN.
Yes. You read that right. It actually happened.
Let me back up a bit.
My family has some REALLY good stories. I mean, these stories could easily make books or movies or a darn good reality tv series. We've always joked that one of us needs to write a book.
Well, I haven't written a book yet, but a blog seems a pretty good place to share these stories too.
With the holiday season upon us, I want to share with you one of the very best stories I have. This is one of those stories that I couldn't make up if I tried, it's too bizarre and amazing.
As I already mentioned, my Dad didn't allow us to have a Christmas tree in our house when I was growing up. Despite all of our complaining, he was adamant about this. He quoted the following scriptures during the holidays, to remind us why he held these strong beliefs:
Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord, learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
2 Kings 23:6
And he brought out the grove from the house of the Lord, without Jerusalem, unto the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the children of the people.
Which brings me to December 25, 1989. My family had been attending a church in Prospect, TN for several months, and the preacher had kindly asked Dad to give the Christmas Day sermon.
When we arrived at church that morning, there was a beautifully decorated tree beside the pulpit. This presented a real predicament for my Dad. Needless to say, he was having a very hard time with this Christmas tree in the church. He didn’t think it was right. My Mom was a little nervous. She knew this could get ugly because my Dad was not one to sit around and tolerate what he believed to be blasphemous. My sister and I were a little nervous too even though we didn’t really understand why.
As the service went on, it became clear that the pastor had planned a special program for the end of the service, after Dad had spoken, where members of the congregation would come forward and put their offerings on the tree. This sounded like a beautiful ceremony to me.
But as Dad began speaking, he was getting more and more wound up, when suddenly, in a whirlwind of passion and personal conviction, my Dad ran straight toward the Christmas tree, grabbed it firmly by the middle of the trunk, yanked it out of the base, and RAN from the pulpit, down the aisle, toward the back door – ornaments and ribbons and glitter showering the stunned onlookers in his wake. Once he had the grove officially outside the House of God, he proceeded to throw it on the ground and stamped it small to powder.
Meanwhile, inside the church, there was a stunned silence. My Mom was paralyzed with shock. My sister and I were so mortified that all we could think to do was get in the floor and hide under the pew. When Mom came to her senses, she grabbed us up and said RUN TO THE CAR. NOW! So we did, our entire little family made a bee-line for the car. We got in and locked the doors just before the angry mob of Christians began chasing us, beating on the car windows, crying, cursing, and forbidding us to ever show our faces in their church again. (Ok, maybe it wasn't that dramatic, but that's how my 9 year old mind remembers it).
As we finally broke free from the crowd, and were a safe distance from the church, Mom said “Well, thank God they hadn’t put the money on it yet!”.
And that, my friends, is the infamous Chapman Christmas Tree Story.
What does this story have to do with Fearless Friday, you might ask? Well, I would venture to say that throwing a Christmas tree out of a church on Christmas day is probably the most fearless act that I have ever witnessed.
I asked my dad many years later what was going through his head when he did this. I wanted to know what he was thinking while he did it. Did he regret it afterward? He explained that something other than himself had taken over, and he was no longer in control of his actions. He did say that later that night, he began to doubt what he had done, and question his actions but that, ultimately, he did what he believed was right, and he would do it again today if he had to.
I don't necessarily agree with his actions, or his beliefs on this subject, but I have to respect that kind of conviction.
I think about how much of my life I have spent not standing up for what I believe in for fear of causing a scene, or looking like a fool. My dad can teach us all a thing or two about following your heart, and living with integrity; about doing what we believe in our hearts to be right, regardless of the opinions of others. Maybe we just have to believe in something so much that our love becomes stronger than our fear. Wouldn't it be great if we could all find something that important to us.
I wanted to tell this story, not only because it's so bizarre and funny, but because it's one of those things that is an integral piece of my past. It doesn't define me, or even impact my life today, but it's still a part of who I am; like the marks on an old antique - each scuff and ding and knick in the wood is part of the story, each mark adds depth and beauty, working together to make the piece the original work of art that it is.
And since this story belongs not only to me but to my entire family, I want you to know that I have the full permission of all parties involved to tell it. And I would like to give a special "Thanks" to my Dad for being such a good sport, his only request was that I reference the specific Bible verses that inspired his actions.
Got your own funny holiday story? Post a link to it in the comments, or shoot me an email. I'd love to hear it!
Merry Christmas to you!
© Haley McManigal 2015
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