Christmas tree display

Sunday, December 17, 2006
Donna Heuer toured the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum's "Indoor Walk in the Woods" featuring more than 25 decorated Christmas trees Tuesday in Altenburg, Mo. (Diane L. Wilson)

ALTENBURG, Mo. -- All of the Christmas trees inside the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum represent a piece of Perry County's history.

Old photos of those who lived in the area during the early 1800s fill the branches of one tree. Another tree displays the unique talent of Altenburg librarian Kathy Schlimpert, who made Scherenschnitle ornaments to hang from the limbs. Using a German art form of paper cutting, Schlimpert spent hours creating dozens of Scherenschnitle ornaments.

Angels adorn another tree, which represents the women of Trinity Lutheran's Ladies Aid, and a red, white and blue tree memorializes the veterans of Perry County.

The Christmas tree is one of the most recognizable symbols of the holiday season, but there are many stories surrounding its origin.

Some say the modern Christmas tree has its roots in the early 1400s. In those days, churches held "miracle plays" to tell Bible stories to people because few could read. One play, performed each year on Dec. 24, was about the Garden of Eden. Since it was a problem for the play's producers to find an apple tree with leaves in the middle of winter, they used an evergreen tree and tied apples to it.

It's also been said the tradition of the Christmas tree started in the late 1400's. Germans and Scandinavians placed evergreen trees inside their homes as a reminder that winter was coming to an end and spring would soon return.

Another origin of the Christmas tree is the inspiration behind the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum's "Indoor Walk in the Woods" display. The display features more than 25 decorated Christmas trees.

According to the legend, Martin Luther -- the man who challenged the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and influenced the culture of Lutheran traditions -- was walking through the snow-covered woods at night on Christmas Eve in 1500. He was in such awe of the evergreen trees, which shimmered in the moonlight, that he cut one down. When he brought it home to his family, he lit the tree with candles in honor of Christ's birth.

Most Lutherans credit Luther for creating the tradition of the Christmas tree.

"We wanted to create that scene and feeling here -- it's our own winter wonderland," said Carla Jordan, the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum's director.

The "Indoor Walk in the Woods" display will remain at the museum until sometime after Christmas. Tours are available to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily.

Last week, members of Hanover Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau toured the museum.

"It's beautiful," said Helen Steffens of Jackson. "I've seen ornaments on the trees that I remember my grandmother had when I was a child."

A 1-foot tall Christmas tree, with musical instrument-shaped glass ornaments, sits at the front of the museum. The tree is the smallest of the bunch but represents the life of Luther.

"It is the smallest one but he's definitely the inspiration of this display," Jordan said.

This is the second year the museum has set up the "Indoor Walk in the Woods" display. Jordan said this year's display is "bigger and better."

The museum, which was the first Lutheran church for the Saxons' original settlement here and later became a Lutheran school and then a museum, is operated by the not-for-profit Perry County Lutheran Historical Society.

Want to go?

* What: Indoor Walk in the Woods

* Where: The Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum in Altenberg

* When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily

* Info: (573) 824-6070

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