An annual tradition: The Living Christmas Tree

By Ian McKechnie

It’s the first week of Advent, circa 2001. Throngs of children and teenagers arrayed in burgundy-and-white choir gowns gather in the Sunday School room at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, talking excitedly among themselves.  In due course, they troop upstairs and are marshalled outside of the minister’s vestry.

They enter the vast sanctuary, hundreds of eyes focused on a 40-foot tall Christmas Tree occupying the apse and choir loft.  For these young choristers, the appearance of this towering tree structure in the church means only one thing – the festive season is around the corner!  Moments later, a soaring descant rings out across the nave as the choir and congregation sings The First Nowell and takes their places in “The Tree;” the Rodgers organ leading several hundred voices in song as organist Bob Tompkins pulls out all the stops.

And pull out all the stops he did in 1982, when he approached the Kirk Session at St. Andrew’s with a vision to share the good news of the gospel story through what has become known far and wide as the Living Christmas Tree.  “Bob’s goal was to present this Good News through the spoken and sung messages of our choirs, enhanced by coloured lights that would vary in combinations and intensities according to the words and music,” says Mary Lou Tompkins today.  Bob, who died earlier this year, “had ‘thought’ it might continue for 5 or 6 years. We retired from our roles after its 23rd season, having needed to expand within 2 years to 7 services each – well beyond his imagination!”

For many attendees, the Living Christmas Tree has become an annual tradition. Like all traditions, it involves a great deal of behind-the-scenes planning. Well before the tree structure goes up and the lights go on, the organizing committee is selecting music, discerning which combinations of lights will best reflect the cantata’s message, and attending to a multitude of other tasks. Each of the six services requires more than 100 people to happen, from choristers, musicians, and lighting technicians, to sound technicians, safety personnel, and ushers.

More than six months of preparations culminate in what the Tree Committee hopes will, through the music or narration, give people food for thought.

This year’s cantata, by Tony Wood, Michael Farren, and Cliff Duren, is titled “What Kind of Throne.” In a world seemingly defined by lust for power, injustice, and violence, organizers hope that this cantata will remind attendees of the love, joy, peace, and hope that is at the heart of the Christmas story.

The Living Christmas Tree takes place Saturday November 30 at 4:30 PM, Sunday December 1 at 4:30 PM, Monday December 2 at 7:00 PM, Friday December 6 at 7:00 PM, Saturday December 7 at 4:30 PM, and Sunday December 8 at 4:30 PM. Tickets can be reserved online ( ), or by calling the church at (705) 324-4842.

1 Comment

  1. Sandy says:

    How much are the tickets ?

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