(Today’s post by Adam Cooper)
There has been a lot of discussion over the years from two camps of belief. Is the Christmas tree truly a part of the Christian Christmas or is it some pagan ritual that Christians should steer clear of? Both sides of this debate are passionate in their beliefs and at times become rather non-Christian in voicing them. In this post I only want to address Christmas trees; no other aspect of the Christmas tradition is applicable to this particular discussion.
Where did the Christmas tree originate? To answer that question I did some research. Evergreen trees, which stay green year round, have always been looked to by many religions. The druids, the Egyptians (using palm rushes that remained green), the Romans, and even the Celts looked at these trees as a symbol of life and because of that they were worshipped near the time of the winter solstice as a way to usher in a healthy spring. Pine boughs were used by the druids and some other pagan religions to line the inside of the house as a sign of new life. Various other plants that remained green throughout the winter were also used. In many of these religions these people worshipped their sun god during this time as well. Even if trees were not available people would build tree or pyramid shapes out of wood, these serving the same purpose as the trees themselves. In the early church (mid to late 1500s) trees were decorated with apples to represent the Garden of Eden and people celebrated Adam and Eve’s day on December 24th. These trees were called paradise trees.
It is believed that the German Christians in the early 1500s were the ones who created the Christmas Tree tradition as we know it with their paradise trees; and Martin Luther is said to have been one of the first to light a tree with lit candles to resemble the way the stars of the heavens twinkled through the limbs of the evergreen trees of the forest. German settlers to the Americas brought the tradition with them but it wasn’t until Queen Victoria in 1846 (who was married to a German prince) used a Christmas tree (paradise tree), a sketch of which was included in the London News, that the practice became widely accepted in the Americas.
But DOES IT EVEN MATTER? Did the practice derive from ancient pagan religions? Probably. It is possible that the ancient Jews even witnessed the Egyptians using green palm rushes to worship their son god during their captivity there. Does the worship of trees by pagan religions continue today? Probably. The Hindus and Buddhists still have gods represented by trees. Looking at the pagan religions which worship trees it is clear to see that the tree is used to resemble a deity in their beliefs and they WORSHIP the tree to pay homage to their god.
Do we worship our Christmas trees? Let’s ask some questions to clarify this. Does your Christmas tree occupy an important place within your home? Does your Christmas tree receive a great deal of attention in your home? Is your Christmas tree heavily decorated with items that have little to no Christian meaning or reference? In many homes furniture is moved to make room for the tree. It is decorated with ornaments that have more to say about the life of the people in the house than about the life of Christ whose birth it is supposed to memorialize. In most houses the tree occupies a large portion of the attention during the Christmas holiday as ornaments are unwrapped from large storage boxes and lights are delicately placed and illuminated each and every night of the Christmas season; some starting as early as November first. From the looks of this I would hazard a guess that many of us put more time and effort into our Christmas trees than we do into remembering Christ during this season. We have deified our Christmas trees and minimized the true meaning of the season.
So I would say, yes, it does matter. It matters that Christmas trees have become less about Christ and more about our lives. It matters that we park our trees in places of honor in our houses, places where they can be seen and admired from almost every corner of the house. It matters that we have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. However, even though all of those things matter, I don’t believe that the origin of the tradition matters unless the correct meaning is not placed upon the act. We need to worship God more and the tree less.
Psalm 146 is perfectly applicable to this discussion:
“1 Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul. 2 I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. 3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. 4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. 5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, 6 the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them– the LORD, who remains faithful forever. 7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, 8 the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. 9 The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. 10 The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD.”
The evergreen tree marked a symbol of hope for a coming spring and the psalmist here sees hope in God’s creation. The difference between the pagan worship of trees and seeing hope in God’s creation is remembering that it is GOD who created it. We should focus on worshipping God whether we commemorate it with a cross, a Christmas tree, or even a nativity. But these things should never become THE focus of attention; that should always land squarely upon God.
If your Christmas tree has become focused more on you and your life remember that it is God that has blessed you with the life you have. As you reflect on those ornaments give Him thanks for making those memories possible. If your Christmas tree has become more about the gifts beneath it remember the gift that God gave us all when He gave Christ to hang on a tree for our sins.
If you were looking here for a “cut the trees out of Christmas” rant, oh well! It is your decision what you do with the traditions you practice and whether the appropriate meaning is assigned to them or not. I pray for each of you to have a very Merry CHRISTmas!