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Are Christmas Trees Pagan?

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One group of Christians is trying to keep the name “Christmas tree” while a small minority of Christians is saying good riddance to the very idea of Christmas trees because they are of pagan origin. Who’s right?

Some time ago, my wife was asked by a national ministry to create a quilted backdrop of a large sweeping rainbow for its presentation booth that was used at various conventions around the country. I happened to attend one that was held in Atlanta. I went over to the booth and told the young lady behind the table that my wife had sewn the large background piece. With a frustrated look on her face, she told me that a woman had just left the booth angrily pointing out that the rainbow is the symbol of the homosexual movement and that Christians should not be using it. I reminded her that the rainbow was God’s creation, and that He had posted it in the heavens as a sign to Noah and future generations that He would never destroy all flesh by a flood (Gen. 9:12–17).

So then, who owns the rainbow? Homosexuals or the people of God? Just because homosexuals have misappropriated something of God’s creation does not mean we cannot continue to use it. In fact, we should work to restore the image to its original redemptive meaning. Instead, many Christians refuse to display the rainbow because it has been hijacked by sodomites.

Should we stop using wood because some people seek out for themselves “a skillful craftsman to prepare an idol that will not totter” (Isa. 40:20)? Are all trees pagan because pagans have used trees to create idols? Of course not. The Bible tells us, even in a post-fall world “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude” (1 Tim. 4:4; cf. Gen 1:31).

For millennia idol worshippers have bowed down before heavenly bodies—sun, moon, and stars—calling them their gods. There were people in Isaiah’s day who looked to “astrologers, those who prophesy by the stars, those who predict by the new moons” (Isa. 47:13) for guidance. The people of Israel were warned by God not to lift their “eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven” (Deut. 4:19). God created the heavenly bodies to “be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years,” and to “be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth” (Gen. 1:14). Even with the misuse of the heavenly bodies, this did not stop God from choosing sun, moon, and stars to symbolize His chosen nation Israel (Gen. 37:9–11; Rev. 12:1–2). And neither did it stop Him from using a star to announce the birth of Jesus (Matt. 2:2).

Pagans believe there is power in inanimate objects like the sun, moons, and stars, but we know better. Notice how the Bible ridicules those who turn God’s good creation into things they claim should be worshipped (Isa. 44:12–20). God’s people know better. We are not fooled or intimidated; it’s just a piece of wood created by God to be used for our benefit and enjoyment. We can burn it for heat or fashion it into a tool. Should we cut down the trees in our yards because Jesus was crucified on a tree?

Some will turn to Jeremiah 10:1–10 to make a case against “Christmas trees.” Jeremiah is describing idol worship, and he ridicules it: “Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, for they can do no harm, nor can they do any good” (10:5). Who among us believes that a “Christmas tree” is a god to be worshipped?

Just because pagans might have used trees to worship their gods does not mean that we can’t use them to teach us something about God who has given us the “indescribable gift” of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 9:15). The Christmas tree is an evergreen that reminds us that we have “eternal life” in Jesus Christ (John 6:40). The shape of the tree reminds us that we are “born from above” (John 3:3). The needles on the branches remind us that Jesus was “pierced through for our transgression” (Isa. 53:5). The lights hung on the tree remind us that Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and through Him we are to be “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). The objects we hang on the tree remind us that “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17).

Instead of condemning the setting up of the Christmas tree as some practice brought  into our homes from the pagan cold, it should remind us that God promises us “the right to the tree of life” (Rev. 22:14). If the Bible tells us “to go to the ant . . . to observe her ways and be wise” (Prov. 6:6), certainly we can learn similar things from God’s other good creations, even trees.

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