Move over, inflatable yard Santa and giant, illuminated snowman! Here comes Jesus.
That’s how retired pastor Luther Swicegood, a member of Mount Tabor Lutheran Church, West Columbia, S.C., talks about a style of outdoor lighted Christmas decorations he created. His large, lighted Christograms are a spinoff of Chrismons, handmade tree ornaments shaped like religious symbols and ancient Greek letters.
Swicegood got the idea for his Christograms in 2017, when his neighbors went all out in decorating their yards for Christmas. “I didn’t want my house to be dark,” he said. “My residential area had Santa Clauses, and I needed to light up my yard. I said, ‘I’ll make a gigantic Chrismon—7 feet tall, 3 feet wide, made out of wire.’”
Later he came up with the different name for his creations because the word “Chrismon” was trademarked by Ascension Lutheran Church, Danville, Va., where those first tree ornaments were crafted in 1957 by Frances Kipps Spencer. Swicegood was once a supply pastor at Ascension and made Chrismons with Spencer. He named his creations after the word “Christogram,” which means a graphic symbol of Christ.
Swicegood’s first Christogram was a Chi Ro, which combines the first two Greek letters in the word “Christ.” He made a cardboard pattern of the symbol and then formed the Chi Ro out of fence wire, illuminated it with string lights and decorated it with garland. The unique decoration quickly became a conversation piece.
“My neighbors all asked, ‘What does it mean?’” Swicegood said. “It gave me an opportunity to talk about Jesus, who, by the way, has something to do with Christmas.”
It wasn’t long before Swicegood’s Christograms were being displayed at congregations throughout the state. He contacted the Lutheran Men in Mission group at St. Michael Lutheran Church in Greenville, S.C., asking if its members wanted to make Christograms.
St. Michael member Howard Leonard was happy to discuss the project with him and said members were interested in making Christograms to sell in a fundraiser for the church, so Swicegood conducted a construction workshop for the men’s group.
While Swicegood’s original design requires less skill and no power tools, Leonard altered the wire design to make a Christogram from plywood. “I’m an engineer, and, to me, the wire was OK but a little on the flimsy side,” he said. “If you were going to hang it on your house, it would work well, but to place it in your yard, you’d have to have a post support to stand it up.”
The first few designs included a Chi Ro, an ichthus (fish) and an anchored cross. During the congregational fundraiser, St. Michael sold the wire Christograms for $50 and the wooden versions for $100. The project raised about $6,000, Leonard said.
Swicegood and Leonard both recommend Christograms as an easy project for congregations to embrace.
“We’ve taken what has been used inside our buildings to decorate for Christmas and have put it outside into the public domain,” Swicegood said. “This is so theologically sound, inasmuch as Jesus is the light of the world, but he also said to the church, ‘You are the light of the world.’ Church members go out into the world and shine the light.”
For more information, contact Luther Swicegood at firstname.lastname@example.org or Howard Leonard at