Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Is the Christmas Tree a Pagan Thing or a Pagan Custom?

There are some websites, social media posts, and articles circulating around the internet claiming that the Christmas Tree originates from paganism.  Jeremiah 10 is often cited to support this claim. What are we to make of this?  Is the Christmas Tree a pagan thing or a pagan custom?  Let us analyze the text which reads:

Jeremiah 10:1-16 - New International Version

God and Idols

10 Hear what the Lord says to you, people of Israel. 2 This is what the Lord says: “Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are terrified by them.

3 For the practices of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.

4 They adorn it with silver and gold;  they fasten it with hammer and nails  so it will not totter.

5 Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.”

6 No one is like you, Lord;you are great, and your name is mighty in power.

7 Who should not fear you, King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise leaders of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you.

8 They are all senseless and foolish; they are taught by worthless wooden idols.

9 Hammered silver is brought from Tarshish and gold from Uphaz. What the craftsman and goldsmith have made is then dressed in blue and purple—all made by skilled workers.

10 But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.

11 “Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’”[a]

12 But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.

13 When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.

14 Everyone is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. The images he makes are a fraud; they have no breath in them.

15 They are worthless, the objects of mockery;when their judgment comes, they will perish.

16 He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these, for he is the Maker of all things, including Israel, the people of his inheritance—the Lord Almighty is his name.


One does not need to be an expert in English to understand that this text is not about Christmas Trees.  It clearly states that a tree is cut down from the forest and a craftsman chisels it into a shape places silver and gold and is placed on display like a scarecrow. It goes on to say that it cannot speak or walk and needs to be carried. Verse 8 then describes this creation as a "wooden idol."  Clearly, the text is describing something made by human hands that looks like a human, not a tree. We know this because it says that a tree is cut from a forest and a craftsman chisels it into shape and places gold and silver on it. This is not describing a Christmas tree. 

Who chisels a Christmas tree?  Who puts gold and silver on it?  Granted, people put tinsels and shiny balls on their Christmas trees, but these are not actual precious metals.  Moreover, verse 8 says that these creations are "wooden idols," not trees. This means the shape is altered.  For example, a wooden table may be wood, but it is no longer a tree. The trees used to make the table were chiseled and fashioned in a way so it could become a table.  Moreover, the text specifically states that this creation cannot speak or walk and needs to be carried. This means that it is in a humanoid form. The fact that it states that it cannot speak means it has a mouth design on it. The fact that it says it cannot walk and needs to be carried tells us it has extremities to it like human legs or human limbs. Trees do not have this. 

What Jeremiah 10 verses 1-16 is describing is not a Christmas Tree, but a wooden idol crafted by a carpenter or artisan. Those who claim Jeremiah 10 is speaking about Christmas Trees are engaging in anachronism.  They are applying times and cultures in different periods with other times and cultures. It is a malicious attempt to misinform and damage the reputation of traditional Christmas customs.  Moreover, people who make these false claims use the King James Version which offers an ambiguous interpretation that reads:

3 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.

4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

5 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.

What Jeremiah 10 actually describes.

This text makes it seem like the tree is being decorated with silver and gold and set up like a palm tree. However, we can tell the text is not describing Christmas Trees here either.  Verse 3 clearly mentions "the work of hands of the workman," verse 4 says "deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers," and verse 5 says "they are upright as the palm tree, but speak not:.."  

We know the KJV is not referencing a Christmas Tree either because 1). The tree is cut and is worked on by the hands of a workman. 2) they are decorated with silver and gold and it is fastened with nails using hammers. No one does this with Christmas Trees. 3). The idol is described as a Palm Tree. Christmas Trees are evergreens, not Palm Trees and again this text says it cannot speak. This tells us that it has a mouth design on it. Christmas Trees do not have unless we are speaking about one of those Christmas Tree decorations that move and sing with moving eyes and mouths. However, this text is not speaking on that either.  So we can see that even the King James Version is not talking about Christmas Trees.  Moreover, evergreens do not grow in the region that Jeremiah was referencing. 

Others try to make links to Nimrod, Egypt, Babylonia and so forth claiming the Christmas Tree derives from these cultures and time periods while at the same time attempting to link December 25 to and rehashing of worshiping the sun god. This is a topic for another post. We know that December 25 is derived from the early Church Fathers who calculated from March 25 the period from which gestation would have occurred in the Blessed Virgin Mary's womb. December 25 was the best match based on the evidence. 

Jesus was clearly born towards the end of December. December 15 fits the best date based on evidence, reason, and mathematics.  These people claim that Christmas is the syncretism of pagan sun god worship liking it with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  We know this is all nonsense based on the aforementioned facts and the fact that the Roman Empire and the Jews had different calendars.  In fact, we use the Gregorian calendar which places Christmas on the 25th of December. The Eastern Rite non-Catholic Church kept the Julian calendar which would have been the one pagans in the Roman Empire would have used. This is why the Eastern Rite non-Catholic Christians celebrate Christmas a week after Catholics and most Protestants.  

So basically there are malicious people out there using the internet to post false information. This erroneous information is geared towards discrediting Christmas and is an attempt to link Catholicism with paganism. Christmas Trees are a symbol of Jesus. It is a symbol of the Cross or the Wood of the Cross upon which Jesus was crucified and died at Calvary. The Christmas Tree also represents God as eternal. It represents Jesus as the vine with branches and the one who will restore creation after the fall of Adam and Eve after eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  

Now there were cultures in the past that worshiped trees and this was part of paganism. No one is denying this fact. The difference is that these trees were not Christmas Trees. How can they be if the practice predates Christianity? Moreover, Christians do not worship Christmas Trees.  Christmas Trees are reminders of the tenets of the faith surrounding the Incarnation of the Son of God. They are Sacramentals in that sense. Are they required? No, they are not. They are not part of Church teaching in any Christian tradition whether Catholic or not. They are just external reminders of the meaning behind Christmas. This is why they are called CHRISTMAS Trees.  

The origin of using Christmas Tree is vague. Some claim it derives from Germans who brought trees home to decorate for Christmas and it developed from there. Others claim it derives from St. Boniface who famously cut down the tree of Thor which pagans worshiped. He used the wood to make a church.  From there, the idea of using a tree to service Christianity is believed to have derived from St. Boniface's use of the tree that was used by pagans to worship the god Thor.  Furthermore, Protestantantism's founder Martin Luther is said to have started the tradition of lighting the Christmas Tree with lights. He used candles instead.  Regardless of the origin, there is nothing wrong with using Christmas Trees as long as they honor Jesus Christ.  

Sacred Scripture even mentions the use of trees, in particular, fir and pine trees to glorify God.  The trees even rejoice in God.  References to the Tree of Life is also mentioned and this tree is given a prominent place in heaven.  

 

Isaiah 60:13 King James Version

13 The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious.

Psalm 96:11-13 King James Version

11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.

12 Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice

13 Before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.

Revelation 22:1-2 King James Version

22 And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.

2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

 

Jesus is described as the Morning Star. We often use a star to top a Christmas Tree. This star represents Jesus as the Morning Star, the Star of David, and the Star that leads the Wisemen or Three Kings to Christ.   

Revelation 22:16 King James Version

16 I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

In conclusion, Christmas Trees are a great tradition for Christians to use in their homes. They offer a natural and aesthetical way to meditate on the tenets of the Christian faith concerning the Incarnation. They remind us the reason for the season is Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary.  The idea of the Christmas Tree is not of pagan origin nor in any way connected to it. While some pre-Christian civilizations did worship things in nature such as trees or pantheism, naturism, or physiolatry, this has no connection to the Christmas Tree tradition. Christians do not worship them.  

Jeremiah 10 which is often cited to justify the claim that Christmas Trees are pagan in no way references a Christmas Tree. It describes the use of a tree - which is not even an evergreen - to create a wooden humanoid idol. Evergreens, pines, or firs are not even found in the region where Jeremiah describes the construction of wooden idols. The Bible mentions many instances of trees being used as instruments to praise God and rejoice in Him. It also references it as a prominent feature in heaven and Jesus as the Morning Star.  Neither December 25 nor Christmas Trees have a connection to Babylonia, Nimrod, Ra, Roman, Iranian, or Greek deities, or any other pagan winter celebration.  Any claims to the contrary are poor scholarship and nonsensical. 

Remember that when using a Christmas Tree, be sure it is Christ-centered. 

Merry Christmas!



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