Christmas Tree?

Do not learn the way of the Gentiles… for the customs of the people are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman with the ax.  They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.  They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves.  Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good” (Jeremiah 10:2-5).

Is this speaking of the Christmas tree?  No, this is speaking of the making an idol out of wood and overlaying it with gold and silver (Jeremiah 10:3-4, 8-10, 14-16 cf. Isaiah 40:19-20; 46:5-7).  I know of no one who sets up a Christmas tree to be an idol.  Nor, do I know of anyone who claims to be worshipping a god under the image of a tree.

Doesn’t the Christmas tree have pagan origins?  Maybe.  The History Channel says, “Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter.  Just a people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient people hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows.  In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun had become sick and weak.  They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well.  Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun was strong and summer would return…  Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes, which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.  Early Romans… decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.  In Northern Europe, the mysterious Druids… also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as symbols of everlasting life.  The fierce Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder” (History of Christmas Trees, history.com). 

However, the modern Christmas tree seems to have its origin in Germany.  “Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition, as we now know it, in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees in their homes… It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther… first added lighted candles to a tree.  Walking toward his home one winter evening… he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens.  To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired it branches with lighted candles” (ibid). 

The Germans seem to have introduced it to America.  “Most 19th century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity.  The first record of one being displayed was in 1830’s by German settlers of Pennsylvania although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier… But as late as the 1840’s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans… In 1846… Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree… Victoria was very popular… what was done at court immediately became fashionable – not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society… But the 1890’s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas popularity was on the rise in the U.S. … The first tree at Rockefeller Center was in 1931” (ibid).

Is the seasonal display and decoration of a tree sinful?  There is nothing inherently sinful about having a green tree in one’s house.  There is nothing sinful about decorating it.  Idolatry is wrong, not decorations.  What about pagan roots?  Intent matters.  To marry in June at one time may have meant that one was seeking the blessings of the goddess Juno.  Today, it may be simply a convenient time for the couple and have nothing to do with Juno.  The meaning a culture attaches to a symbol matters.  The question mark in Greek is the same symbol as semicolon in English.  2¼ may be written 2,25 in France, Germany, and some parts of the world.  It is written 2.25 in the United States and other parts of the world. One thousand is written 1.000 in Germany and some parts of the world. It is written 1,000 in the United States and other parts of the world. One million is written 10,00,000 in India (the comma is placed after every two digits following the first three). It is written 1,000,000 in the United States (the comma is placed after every three digits). The eating of unleavened bread and drinking of the fruit of the vine does not necessarily mean that one is remembering the death of Christ.  However, in context of Christian worship, this is what it should mean. 

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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