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It’s the season for our wonderful Christmas traditions. While each family has their own unique and special traditions they hold dear, as a culture we share many holiday traditions: drinking eggnog, wrapping gifts, singing our favorite Christmas songs, and decorating a Christmas tree.

But what’s behind this tradition of putting a dead (or fake) tree in your living room and covering it with lights and shiny baubles? What does this have to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus?

Honoring the evergreen tree is actually an ancient pagan tradition. Because pines, firs, and holly stay green during the winter, they were viewed as representing the return of life and greenery in the spring. Some pagan traditions, from both Europe and the middle and far East, involved decorating indoors and out with evergreens, to ward off evil and celebrate life. Many pagan Germanic and Scandinavian cultures worshipped trees of all sorts.

The ancestor of the modern Christmas tree tradition is said to have originated in Germany in the 16th and 17th centuries. Many say that the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther was the first one to add lighted candles to an evergreen tree.

Over the next couple of centuries, the tradition grew and spread. Many areas associated the Christmas tree with only the wealthy or the upper class, as they were usually the ones who could afford extra candles to put on the trees. Trees were often decorated with fruits, nuts, and other small edibles, which served as treats for the children. By the late 19th century, the Christmas tree was a commonplace tradition in private homes, public places, and churches.

For many, the evergreen tree still symbolizes eternal life as it did for the early pagans – but the eternal life that Jesus brings, not merely a return of sunlight after the winter solstice. Decorations like a star or an angel topping the tree symbolizes Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Lights on the tree (first as candles, now as electric lights) symbolize Jesus as the Light of the World.

So is the Christmas tree a pagan tradition or a Christian tradition? Are you honoring pagan spirits or Jesus if you put up a decorated tree in your living room?

The past several centuries have seen the Christmas tree as a Christian tradition – but what’s more important than tradition is the attitude of your heart. The Bible teaches us against having idols – anything that is more important in our lives than God.

If you worship the created evergreen tree instead of the Creator, then the tree has become your idol. If you value the modern trappings and traditions of the Christmas holiday more than God and His Son, then that is your idol.

If you love and honor and worship Jesus, and merely use the Christmas tree to bring joy and pleasure into your family’s life, and as a reminder of His birth much as you do with a Nativity scene, then it is not an idol.

God wants pure hearts that love and obey Him. If a Christmas tree distracts you from the real meaning of Christmas, then by all means don’t have one in your home. If a Christmas tree helps you to focus on the real meaning of Christmas, then by all means, enjoy your tree.

Whatever traditions you participate in to celebrate this time of the year, always keep Jesus as the reason for the season.

2 Responses

  1. Greg Denysschen

    Although I understand the middle of the road approach to lovingly make believers aware of the risks, it perhaps does not go far enough into why the pagan aspect of the tree adoration is dangerous. As one who had invested my whole life as a missionary to idol worshiping communities the exposure to what lies behind the idols and their power sheds a lot of light on how the powers of darkness latch on to things traditionally theirs and unwittingly entertained by well-meaning believers with troublesome consequences. Perhaps this aspect need closer scrutiny so people don’t get hurt. Blessings

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