It’s a tree of symbols reminding those attending church the real meaning of the Christmas season.

The Chrismon Tree in the sanctuary has been a tradition at Grand Avenue United Methodist Church for more than 30 years. Chrismon is the combination of two terms, Christ and monogram. The tree glows with tiny white lights and symbols of Christian history. Every item on it is symbolic of Jesus and the meaning of Christmas.

Pat Cotton, a church member, said the idea originally began in a Lutheran church in Virginia in the late 1950s.

Research shows that church members felt the traditional tree with Santas and reindeer did not reveal the Christian meaning of Christmas.

They came up with the idea to decorate their tree with ornaments symbolizing Jesus. The idea spread from there.

The concept of the tree came to McAlester by a Grand Avenue member who saw one and thought it would be a great idea for the McAlester church. The first Chrismon Tree at Grand Avenue was decorated in the late 1970s.

Every ornament on the tree is gold or white and most are handmade. Cotton said the top is capped with a crown of thorns with the letters, “INRI,” which, in Latin means “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The white lights symbolize the Christian belief that Jesus is the “Light of the World.”

Angels with trumpets, doves, gold butterflies, numerous kinds of fish and more adorn the tree. Some ornaments are covered in felt while others glisten with gold glitter or sequins. There are also handsewn doves and all kinds of crosses. Some ornaments have been carefully beaded, taking hours of work.

Cotton said it takes about two hours each year to decorate the tree.

“The Sunday school classes take turns each year,” she said.

She noted, “The first year we did it, I did a pamphlet of the symbols and what they mean.” She got a thoughtful look on her face. “Maybe I should do that again.”

That way, those in the congregation can view the tree and reflect on the Christian meaning of this holiday season.

Contact Teresa Atkerson at

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