Putting the focus on Christ at Christmas

Determined to encourage people to focus on Christ at Christmastime, Barbara Hawkins found a unique communications medium in a familiar holiday object: the Christmas tree.

"I felt there is a need to fight for the right," said Sister Hawkins, a member of the Roy 30th Ward, Roy Utah South Stake. "I wanted to make a bold statement that Christ is the focal point, especially at Christmastime."The need became clear when she heard that a friend of a little girl she knows had asked what the Nativity has to do with Christmas. "I just couldn't believe it," she said. "I thought, is the world getting that bad that we think Santa Claus is all there is to Christmas?"

What she terms a quest began five years ago when she shopped for Christmas tree ornaments that depicted Christ. Except for some items depicting the baby Jesus, she found nothing.

Frustrated, she confided in her mother, whom she described as "an example of a person that really knew the Savior." Her mother advised her to create her own Christ-oriented Christmas tree ornaments.

This she took as a challenge. The result this year is what she calls "the Christus tree." It was made for the Festival of Trees, a yearly event in Salt Lake City. The festival features hundreds of Christmas trees each decorated according to a specific theme. The trees are sold, with the proceeds going to Primary Children's Medical Center, a Salt Lake pediatric care facility founded by the Church and now owned by a corporation.

Sister Hawkins' tree is topped with a porcelain statuette replicating the Christus, the famous statue by Bertil Thorvaldsen, a copy of which is in the North Visitors Center on Temple Square. The statuette on the tree is illuminated from inside with a tiny light bulb.

Other porcelain figures on the tree depict events in the life of the Savior, including a Nativity scene at the base. Also featured are such items as framed pictures of Christ, and stained-glass pictures of Him made into Christmas balls.

"I did this in honor of my mother," Sister Hawkins said. "She encouraged me to do the tree. Then she died on her birthday last year, the day after Christmas. And you know, I felt my mother's presence. I felt her come and see the tree."

The Christus tree was purchased, yielding $1,600 for the hospital. But for Sister Hawkins and her husband, Chuck, the real value is the message that it brought to thousands of spectators at the festival.

"Some of the comments were breathtaking," Sister Hawkins said. "One man said, `Now that's what Christmas is all about!' "

"Children love Christ," Brother Hawkins added. "We thought the children at the festival would be mainly interested in the electric trains, and the fun decorations. But when they saw the Christus tree, they stopped and gazed in awe."

The Hawkins, parents of three chldren ages 8, 6 and 3, said the tree has had a definite influence in their home. Sister Hawkins said eldest son, Gary, asked her why it was so important to bring the tree to the festival. She explained that there are not many trees like it and that it was needed to help people think of Jesus. His reply was, "What else would you think about at Christmastime?"