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The Cookie Christmas Tree

By Jack Popjes

Do you have a Christmas story that sticks out in your memory? Jack shares a Christmas to remember- the “Cookie Christmas Tree.”

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A Christmas To Remember

It was almost Christmas—the first of a score our family would celebrate as Bible translators in Brazil, and we had no Christmas tree. No trees either real or artificial were to be had for a price we could afford in Rio de Janeiro in those days.

Yet, we wanted to do something Christmassy for our three little daughters. So my wife, Jo, and I made a plan. I secretly made a small Christmas tree out of strips of wood, and painted it dark green and screwed in small hooks on each branch.  While our little girls aged one, three and four napped, Jo baked fancy ginger flavoured Dutch speculaas cookies and other specially decorated ones with Christmassy shapes like stars and snowmen.

The Cookie Christmas Tree

Cookie Christmas TreeOn Christmas Eve our daughters wondered wide-eyed what the big Christmas morning surprise was going to be. After they were in bed, Jo and I put up the little “wooden” tree and decorated it with a dozen fancy Christmas cookies hanging from the small hooks I had screwed in. It turned out beautiful. I took a picture of it to send back home to Canada.

Good thing I did.

On Christmas morning we all trooped into the living room together. What?! The tree was empty!

All the cookies lay in a crumbly mess on the floor, ants crawling all over them. We learned that tropical humidity makes even the best-baked cookies soggy in a few hours.

Our last attempt at having a “normal” Christmas was gone. No turkey, no trimmings, no family. Jo’s baking ruined. My carpentry useless. The surprise spoiled. Our little girls cried. Jo cried. I felt like crying.

That first Christmas was a bust, but we knew there were twenty or more Christmases to go before the Bible translation project we were committed to would be complete.

Jack Popjes

Jack Popjes and his wife, Jo, worked in Brazil for 24 years, completing the linguistic, literacy and Bible translation program among the Canela people in 1990. They traveled for two years in a mini-motorhome throughout North America, speaking at hundreds of churches, conferences, and promotional events. Jack then served as president of Wycliffe Canada for six years and of Wycliffe Caribbean for three years. Wycliffe USA published three books of his story-based columns. He is now writing volume two of a four-volume autobiography. Jack and Jo have three married daughters and eight grandchildren.

To learn more about Jack and his lifelong ministry visit these websites and

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Images Courtesy Of:

Brooke Lark

Rodolfo Marques


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