I found myself standing under a most unusual Christmas tree last week. A giant palm tree strung with star-like lights on its stem and swaying branches, this was a Mauritian Christmas tree very different to the conifer shaped trees at home. Yet, it was particularly lovely and perhaps reminded me of Jesus’ birth more than the tinselled tree in my lounge does.

After all, palm trees crop up often in the Bible. Palm branches formed a carpet for the hooves of the donkey carrying Jesus in to Jerusalem, and in the Jewish feast of Sukkot, families made booths from palm branches and slept under them for a week. So, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that the rough stable in which Jesus was born might have had a roof made of palm fronds. And that the swaddled baby lying in a feeding trough could—on opening his eyes—catch a glimpse of starlight through the gaps of that modest covering.

At times I find it difficult to connect our Christmas traditions to that first night when angels sang in a starry sky. Now we hear only jolly songs in crowded malls and, if we take time to look to the heavens, most of us see a handful of stars in a sky alight with modern electrical glare.

Presents should remind us of the eastern kings laden with spices and gold, but often the cost and strain of buying our own gifts leaves us with little time to reflect on that ancient, arduous journey or the precious gifts the men bore to the greatest King of all.

This year I had the privilege of leaving the city and its festive rush for a week. I stood under palm trees and star-filled skies far from malls and jolly music. Surprisingly, it was easier to reflect on that first Christmas night here—a predominantly Hindu island—far removed from the commercial Christmas hype of my own country.

I am back now, malls and shopping beckoning urgently, but I will take the image of palm fronds with me. I will not forget the baby bathed in starlight.

Wishing each of you a very blessed Christmas. And may you hear snatches of angel song and catch glimpses of starlight to remind you of the birth that changed the world.

Read Simeon’s Awe and Anna’s Praise and A Star, A Journey and a Heavenly King for further Christmas reflections.