SHOULD I DISPLAY A CHRISTMAS TREE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The Christmas tree is an element that some Christians struggle with at this time of year. Of course, the vast majority of professing Christians are unfamiliar with the origin of the Christmas tree; in fact, the origin of Christmas is obscure in the minds of many. Should we as Bible-believers display Christmas trees?
So there be no misunderstanding regarding our purpose in presenting this study, we will delineate it here before we even begin. Our desire is to enlighten you about Christmas trees so that you can make an informed decision. It is certainly not our goal to “have dominion over your faith;” our desire is to be “helpers of your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). We will not dictate to you what you can and cannot do regarding Christmas trees, but we do offer this study for your consideration. Our goal is to have your faith rest in an intelligent understanding of God’s Word, so that you may have joy and peace in believing God’s Word (Romans 15:13). Now, we can begin to analyze the Christmas tree from a historical and Biblical standpoint.
The History Channel’s website (www.history.com) says the following about the Christmas tree:
“Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient peoples 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.”
Historically, evergreen trees were very special to superstitious, pagan (non-Christian) people, long before Christianity began. Note that this is said not from a Bible-believer’s standpoint; a body of scholars who probably do not even believe the Bible, are responsible for the above quote!
The History Channel’s website continues its detailing of the origin of the Christmas tree:
“In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 or December 22 and is called the winter solstice. Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god 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 god was strong and summer would return.”
“The ancient Egyptians worshipped a god called Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown. At the solstice, when Ra began to recover from the illness, the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.”
“Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon farms and orchards would be green and fruitful. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs. In Northern Europe the mysterious Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts, also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. The fierce Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder.”
“Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout [?] Christians [?] brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, 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 its branches with lighted candles.”
“Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
With the historians setting the stage for us, we can now see how their presentations of the Christmas tree fit with the Bible. Did you know that that people worshipped Christmas trees in Bible times, centuries before Christ came to Earth? Yes, it is a demonstrable certainty!
The Prophet Jeremiah preached the following in Jeremiah chapter 10, some 600 years B.C.: “ Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:  Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.  For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.  They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.  They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.  Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O LORD; thou art great, and thy name is great in might.  Who would not fear thee, O King of nations? for to thee doth it appertain: forasmuch as among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like unto thee.  But they are altogether brutish and foolish: the stock is a doctrine of vanities.  Silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder: blue and purple is their clothing: they are all the work of cunning men.  But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.  Thus shall ye say unto them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens.”
Currently, we see Christmas trees decked with “silver and gold” tinsel and we see ornaments commonplace. Jeremiah mentioned such an object in the first verses. We will look at them again: “ Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:  Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.  For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.  They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.  They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.”
Are you familiar with an evergreen tree that is hewn with an axe, brought into a home, set upright on a stand, and then decorated with silver and gold? God Himself called it a “heathen” practice, something that He did not encourage, something that did not honor Him. He explicitly told Israel to stay away from such a custom.
Habakkuk the Prophet wrote in his small book: “ What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?  Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.  But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:18-20).
The non-Jews (heathen, Gentiles) believed that their idols of wood, stone, and metal could talk to them (see Isaiah 8:19-20)! (This is not at all “primitive ignorance;” here in the 21st century, religious people still claim that statues weep, bleed, speak to them, and so on.) God had to remind Israel not to have a part in this devil worship, this rank ignorance, reminding them that these idols were “dumb,” unable to speak (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:2). According to Jeremiah, one of these heathen idols was an evergreen tree that was cut down, brought home, fixed upright on a platform, and then decorated with silver and gold. If that is not a graphic image of a modern-day Christmas tree, we do not know what is. Most assuredly, the Bible and historians agree that the “Christmas tree” was pre-Christian, and it was nothing more than a pagan idol!
Lost Gentiles bowed and prayed to these “Christmas trees,” these wooden, worthless, mindless idols that did nothing for them… except distract them from worshipping the only true God. Sadly, Israel was just as guilty of this pagan worship, having “idols under every green tree” (Deuteronomy 12:1-4; 1 Kings 14:22,23; 2 Kings 17:7-23; et al.). Like the pagan idols of old, the Christmas tree keeps people preoccupied with the wrong tree! The Christmas tree decorated with hanging ornaments and tinsel is nothing compared to Calvary’s tree decorated with the hanging body of Jesus Christ. Rather than silver and gold, it was decked with crimson red, the precious blood of God’s Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Unlike the Christmas tree, Calvary’s tree has no pagan roots. Dear friends, may we focus more on Calvary’s tree, where the sinless Son of God died for our sins, He shed His royal blood to redeem us from the penalty of sin, that we may be resurrected with Him, to walk in newness of life.
Galatians 6:14: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”
We conclude this Bible study with the classic 1912 hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross,” written by George Bennard (1873-1958):
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.
NOTE: For more information, you can see the following two websites: http://www.history.com/topics/christmas and http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas-trees.
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