It never seems to fail, that each year around the time of one of the “religious” holidays, the discussion concerning the worldliness of the holiday re-emerges… be it the Easter bunny, baskets of colored eggs, Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, or the trappings of a particular holiday will come under certain fire.
But are we wrong in celebrating Christmas at all? Is there any part of the celebration, be it the tree, decorations, or the exchanging of gifts that does not have its roots in pagan worship?
THE ROOTS OF CHRISTMAS
Christmas, while being a Christian holiday, has its roots in pagan festivals and feasting. These Christian roots date back to just a few years after the death of Christ. The imminent return of the Lord had begun to be questioned. After all, He said He would return quickly and had not done so. The whole idea of a return or resurrection had begun to be questioned. Early Church Fathers felt it necessary to begin an observance that would keep fresh in the minds of the people the birth of their promised Messiah.
The celebration of Christmas is the Christian version of the Roman holiday of the winter solstice. The Romans called this the Day of the Invincible Sun and celebrated it on December 25. The Christian observance gradually moved into prominence over the original in all but the Eastern Orthodox Church. It was, and still is, their belief that the “manifestation” of the Heavenly Logos in the flesh is on January 6.
Early Church Fathers contended that Christmas was but a “religious” duplicate of ancient pagan worship. However, as the festival of the incarnation of the Heavenly Logos, Christmas increasingly entrenched itself into both the liturgy and theology of the Christian Church. It was in Rome during the 3rd century, that the festival, Sol Invictus, *the festival of the victory over paganism by the Christians) was replaced by the celebration on December 25 of the appearance of Christ the “Sun of Righteousness” (Mal. 4:2).
While it is true that the celebration of Christmas, especially the date of the celebration, has its roots in paganism, let us not be guilty of not seeing the forest for the trees. We dare not make much ado about nothing, especially when there is absolutely no Biblical evidence to back it up. In doing so, we often become cultish in our beliefs—cultish in our regards for the beliefs and convictions of others, often putting others down for the “unbelief.” In our cultishness though, we often castrate certain aspects we feel are “heathen,” while adopting others felt harmless or “Biblical” (the exchanging of gifts).
A DEAD OR LIVING TREE?
As it was stated before, we would not discuss every aspect of the Christmas holiday but would center our discussion on the Christmas tree itself. There are those who would have us to believe that the Christmas tree has its origin in the festivals and rites of pagan worship. Those who hold to this belief will say that no Christian should have a Christmas tree in their home because it is worshipping a pagan god. Nothing could be further from the truth. They would take us to the Old Testament passages concerning the “groves.” The groves of the Old Testament were planted not as orchards, but for places of worship to Baal. The tree would be topped out (branches cut off) and carved in the image of the god. The Companion Bible has an excellent commentary on the groves and the worship of Baal.
From a conspectus of passages, we learn that it was either a living tree with the top cut off, and the stump or trunk fashioned into a particular shape (Deut. 16:21), or it was artificially fashioned and set erect in the ground (Isa. 17:8; 1 Kgs. 14:15; 16:33). What the shape was is indicated in 1 Kings 15:13 and 2 Chronicles 15:26 where the A.V. “an idol in a grove,” should be (as in the R.V.) “an abominable image for an Asherah.” The word “Asherah is from the root word Ashar, to be straight, erect, or upright. It could be “cut down (Ex. 34:13, the first occurrence of the word): “plucked up” (Mic. 5:14); “burnt” (Deut. 12:3); or “broken in pieces” (2 Chron. 34:4). So with the Asherah. Originally a tree, symbolic of the “tree of life.” It was an object of reverence and veneration. Then came the perversion of the earlier idea which simply honoured the origin of life; and it was corrupted and debased in the organ of procreation, which was symbolized by the form and shape given the Asherah. It was the Phallus image of Isaiah 57:8 and the image of the male, Ezekiel 16:17.
It is interesting to note that the worship carried out by the followers of Baal was actually a perversion of an earlier worship honoring God. Also note that the image was “cut” and it was the trunk or stump that was fashioned into the “abominable” image and worshipped. The tree was not standing in its original form, but, rather, was stripped of its branches. This was the depredation of the “tree of life” which was originally to be symbolic of God. This dreadful act of man took the rightful God of creation and lowered Him to the god of the earth. No longer did man worship the Creator; he now worshipped the creation. Through the Phallic symbol, the tree (God) is lowered to that of the erect male sex organ (secular humanism). But is this the Christmas tree of the modern celebration?
THE MODERN/TRADITIONAL TREE
The modern Christmas tree originated in western Germany. It was used as a prop in a medieval play concerning Adam and Eve. It was a fir tree decked out with apples which represented the Garden of Eden. The Germans set up these Paradise Trees in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. They would hang thin wafers on the tree. These wafers symbolized the host, the Christian sign of redemption. The wafers eventually gave way to cookies of various shapes (the origin of the modern Christmas cookie). Candles were often added as the symbol of Christ, the light of the world. In the same room, during the season, was what was known as the Christmas Pyramid: a triangular construction of wood with shelves to hold various Christmas figurines (probably those of the nativity). The shelves would be decorated with evergreens (symbolic of eternal life), candles (symbolic of the light of the world Christ),
The custom was widespread among the German Lutherans by the 18th century, but it was not until the following century that the Christmas tree became a deep-rooted German tradition. Introduced into England in the 19th century, the Christmas tree was popularized by the German Prince Albert, who was the husband of Queen Victoria. The Victorian tree was decorated with candles, candies and fancy cakes hung from the branches by ribbon and paper chains. German settlers brought this tradition to the shores of America as early as the 17th century. By the 19th century the trees were the height of fashion. These trees were also popular in Switzerland, Austria, Poland and Holland. The modern Christmas tree was FIRST introduced into the Chinese and Japanese cultures by American missionaries during the 19th and 20th centuries. Trees there were decorated with intricate paper designs.
The use of evergreen trees, wreaths and garlands as a symbol of eternal life was an ancient custom of Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews.
Note that while the Chinese did have a form of worship which incorporated the evergreen, it wasn’t until the missionaries had introduced the Christmas tree to them that they knew of such a thing. If it were indeed the same thing, there would have been no need for the missionaries to make such an introduction; rather, they would have discouraged the use of it.
Is it the same tree? Absolutely not! There can be no correlation made between the worship of “trees” in ancient paganism and the modern Christmas tree. It cannot even be argued that the modern Christmas tree even evolved from those ancient religious rites and rituals. The only similarity lies in the indisputable fact that both are trees. One concerns itself with cutting down, cutting off the branches and reshaping; the other, with beauty and Christian symbolism. When we look at the cutting down, we see the creation being raised above the Creator. The cutting off of the branches symbolizes the eternal separation from God, eternal death. The reshaping points to the turning or perverting of the truth of God into a lie (Rom. 1:3). Instead, the modern Christmas tree (properly trimmed) can be a symbol of the eternal God. The candles demonstrate the light of Christ in a dark and crooked world. The Christmas tree can be a reminder of the greatness and majesty of God. Even the shape of the tree should direct our thoughts and minds on things above as it points upward. In that pyramid-like shape, coupled with the symbols that adorn the tree, we are drawn to a better realization of who God is and what sacrifice Christ made for us.
Please don’t be confused by the worship of paganism and the modern Christmas tree. The one symbolizes man’s greatness; the other, the greatness of God. But a note of caution: don’t allow yourself to worship the tree. We are to have no other gods before us (Ex. 20:3-4). Do not worship the symbolism; rather, set your affections (minds) on things above (heavenly, spiritual), not on things on the earth (man, humanism) (Col. 3:2). Let us enjoy the spirit of the season in brotherly love. Let us have real peace on earth, good will toward men—and not division and strife caused over misunderstandings and wrong interpretations.
As a postscript, it is interesting to note what the Encyclopedia Britanica says about the tradition of Santa Claus:
“Another popular medieval feast was that of St. Nicholas of Myra on December 6, when the saint was believed to visit children with admonitions and gifts in preparation for the gift of the Christ Child at Christmas. Through the Dutch, the tradition of St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas, hence, Santa Claus) was brought to America.
Have yourself a very Merry and Christ-centered Christmas. Enjoy the season, the fellowship of family and friends, the trimmings, and especially the reason for the season. “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Tim. 1:15). Christ was willing to humble Himself; being God, He became man and suffered the cruel death of a Roman Cross (Phil. 2:6-8). Born in a stable, the Lamb of God laid His life on the altar and shed His blood to purchase our salvation. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [our mercy seat] through faith in His blood…” (Rom. 3:25A). Have a tree? Why not? But don’t make it the focal point of the celebration. Make Jesus Christ the center of the Christmas season as well as of your personal life!