THE Bishop of Exeter says a Christmas tree legend featuring Devon’s patron saint has a message of hope for us this Christmas.

The Right Reverend Robert Atwell filmed his annual Christmas video message at Dartmoor Christmas Tree Farm, near Widecombe.

According to folklore, St Boniface (who was born Wynfrith in Crediton before taking Christianity to Germany) was killed by a mob for chopping down an oak tree to prevent a child being sacrificed by pagans.

In its place a small fir tree – believed to be the first Christmas tree – sprang up.

Christians in Germany said the evergreen leaves stood for “God’s unchanging love for us in Jesus Christ” and by the 12th Century Christmas trees were common in homes throughout Germany, with the tradition being imported to Britain by Prince Albert in the 19th century.

Bishop Robert said: “This year, for all of us, the shadow of the pandemic hangs over us and for some people, Christmas seems pretty bleak.

“However, without denying the painful reality of the pandemic, we do have a choice about whether or not to allow it to define us.

“In the midst of our anxiety, what does not change is the reality of God being with us. Emmanuel: God is with us.

“I believe that God is with us in the dark times as well as the sunny and happy times.

“He is with us in disappointment and despair and difficulty, as well as in times of joy and celebration.

“St John writes in his Gospel: ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it’.”

Bishop Robert, who will be preaching at Exeter Cathedral on Christmas Day, is encouraging others to still go to church this Christmas, but to be “vigilant and cautious” in the light of the sharp rise in coronavirus cases.