Is the Christmas tree Christian?

When it comes to this season of the year, shoppers are enticed with advertisement on TV, Radio, newspapers and billboards to get the perfect Christmas tree. The shops are packed, and you can see many people gathering at stalls trying to choose which is best for their particular setting. The associated Christmas is a holiday shared and celebrated by Christians, but has sympathies with many other world religions. Undoubtedly, it is a day that has a worldwide effect.

To many people, Christmas time is a favourite season of the year and involves stupendous spending, the sharing of gifts, party celebrations and elaborate feasting. Christmas is a holiday that unifies almost all peoples of faith and non-religious claimants.

This festive seasons, or the spirit of Christmas causes many to elaborately decorate their everyday spaces, grow a special tree, then cut it down and bring them to their houses, schools, business places and shopping centres, decking them with silver and gold with elaborate lightings. In the light of the mistletoe, families gather, make merry one to another. As I sat down to write there are many lights of my neighbours and of varying colours flashing at me.

Traditionally, when the sun goes down on the 24th of December and darkness covers the land, families and churches prepare for participation in customs such as burning the Yule log, singing around the decorated tree, kissing under the mistletoe and holly, and attending a late night service or midnight mass.

However, quite often we are confronted with important questions such as, what is the meaning of Christmas? Where did the customs and traditions originate?

Many Christians, would desire to worship Christ the Lord in Spirit and in truth as was intended, therefore discerning the spirit of what make sense and what does not, what is truth and what is not. More importantly is Christmas really Christian, and if it isn’t would God be happy that we pass it off as a Christian festival?

The plain truth is that all the customs associated with Christmas pre-date the birth of Jesus Christ, and has firm roots in paganism. Christmas as it has become is a collection of traditions, practices and rituals taken from many cultures and nations.

The 25th of December comes from Roman traditions on which mass were a celebration offered to the Italic god, Saturn, and the rebirth of the sun god Tammuz. The date

In the pre-Christian Romans era pagans noted that daylight began to increase after December 22nd, when it was assumed that the sun god died. These ancients’ worshippers believed that the sun god rose from the dead three days later as the newborn and venerable sun. Consequently, they believed that to be the reason for increasing daylight.

This gave justifiable cause, in their views for much uninhibited excitement and licentious celebration. Gift giving and merriment filled the temples of ancient Rome, as sacred priests of Saturn, called dendrophori, who carried wreaths of evergreen boughs in procession. In Germany, the evergreen tree was used in worship and festivity of the Yule god, also in observance of the resurrected sun god.

The evergreen tree was a symbol of the essence of life and was regarded as a phallic symbol in the fertility god worship. Witches and other pagans regarded the red holly as a symbol of the menstrual blood of the queen of heaven, also known as Diana. Additionally the wood of the holly was also used by witches to make wands for their witchery practices. The white berries of mistletoe were believed by the pagans to represent droplets of the semen of the sun god. Both the holly and the mistletoe were hung in doorways of temples and homes to invoke powers of fertility in those who stood beneath and kissed, causing the spirits of the god and goddess to enter them.

Kissing under sprigs of mistletoe is a well-known holiday tradition, but this little plant’s history as a symbolic herb dates back thousands of years. Many ancient cultures prized mistletoe for its healing properties. The Greeks were known to use it as a cure for everything from menstrual cramps to spleen disorders, and the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder noted it could be used as a balm against epilepsy, ulcers and poisons. The plant’s romantic overtones most likely started with the Celtic Druids of the 1st century A.D. Because mistletoe could blossom even during the frozen winter, the Druids came to view it as a sacred symbol of vivacity, and they administered it to humans and animals alike in the hope of restoring fertility.

Kissing under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites. They probably originated from two beliefs. One belief was that it has power to bestow fertility. It was also believed that the dung from which the mistletoe would also possess “life-giving” power. In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up. Later, the eighteenth-century English credited with a certain magical appeal called a kissing ball.

Th customs we now see at Christmas transcended the frontiers of ancient Rome and Germany and to the far reaches of the then known world. So why and how did all of these ancient customs find their way into and become acceptable practices in modern Christianity, from Catholicism to Protestantism even into fundamentalist churches?

‘Christmas’ itself reveals the marriage of paganism with Christianity. Christmas being a mixture of the name ‘Christ’ our Lord and ‘Mass’ which was a pagan celebration. As many failed to understand ‘Mass’ signify death and was coined originally by the pagans. However when the pagans converted to Christianity, became the Roman Catholic Church, or the universal church of Rome. They could not make a clean and complete break from their roots and traditions, transferred many of the ancient customs and called them Christian, a clever mixture of paganism with Christianity.

The ritual of the Mass involves the death of Christ and the distribution of the ‘Host’, a word taken from the Latin word ‘hostiall’ that means victim! Christmas is therefore a mixture of Christianity with paganism introduced by the Roman Catholic Church. A study of the schemes of the Catholic Church reveals that in every case, the church absorbed and welcomed the customs, traditions and general paganism of every tribe, culture and nation in their efforts to increase the number of people under their control. The Catholic Church invited all of the pagan cultures to, ‘bring your gods, goddesses, rituals and rites and we will give them Christian sounding titles and names so they can be more acceptable, without many people batting an eyelid.

However, they never planned for the liked of Martin Luther the great reformer and corrector of Catholic errors. Luther came on the scene on October 31st, 1517, and other reformers followed his lead, all of them took with them the paganism that was so firmly imbedded in Rome. However in spite of the great work they accomplished these reformers left Christmas intact, leaving many to think it was OK. However, many people continue to question the validity of the tree arguing that it was associated with pagan festivals and not Christians, but how did it becomes associated with Christianity and thus a Christian symbol?

‘Hear what the LORD says to you, O house of Israel… This is what the LORD says:

“Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them… For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and an artisan shapes it with his chisel… They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter” (Jer. 10: 1 – 4 NIV).

Hebrew Masoretic Text

3 For the customs of the peoples are vanity; for it is but a tree which one cutteth out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman with the axe.

This message to Israel by the prophet Jeremiah was often ignored by God’s chosen people and continues to be ignored by Christians at Christmas. Though denied the message appears to forbid cutting down a tree, bringing it into our homes, and decorating it. There are few Christian groups who in modern times will heed the warning and forbid Christmas trees anywhere in their environment due to this passage.

However, most Christians who are aware of the ancient warning will excuse it by claiming that it was warning against the associated idolatry and not about Christmas trees in particular. Some modern churches ignored the whole Old Testament books and this includes this passage, so obviously it could not be a Christmas tree. Similarly, they highlighted the fact that in many modern translations the word chisel is used, which to them is an indication that the reference was not really to a tree but a carved idol. However, the NIV uses the word chisel, while the KJV uses the word axe, as does the Hebrew Masoretic Text.  The Septuagint does not use axe or chisel, but calls the tree a “molten image” in verse 3. Once again, the different translations are a source of confusion.

To enhance their claim they point to other verses which shows that the context of this passage is clearly about the worship of idols. However, verses 3 and 4 are still strong statements against cutting down trees and bringing them into a house to decorate, and these verses are a direct quote from God through the prophet.

Additionally, God clearly declares that he hates the practices of the other peoples who were neighbours of Israel.  Of course, there are many non-Israelite origins of peoples decorating trees that pre-date the modern ‘Christmas tree.’ Ancient (and modern) pagans would cut boughs of evergreens for decoration in their homes. Ancient Egyptians decorated their homes with palm tree branches. Greeks decorated evergreen trees as part of worship of their god Adonia. Pagan Romans would decorate trees with metal and replicas of Bacchus, a fertility god. Germans tied fruit and candles to trees in honour of their god Woden.  Christians cannot accurately claim that decorating a tree is not related to pagan idol worship.

The second-century Christian theologian Tertullian condemned those Christians who celebrated the winter festivals, or decorated their houses with laurel boughs in honour of the emperor:  ‘Let them over whom the fires of hell are imminent, affix to their posts, laurels doomed presently to burn: to them the testimonies of darkness and the omens of their penalties are suitable. You are a light of the world, and a tree evergreen. If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple.’ Other Christian leaders condemned the ‘pagan’ practice of Christmas trees, including the Pilgrim’s second governor, William Bradford. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Worldwide Church of God (recent post at http://worldwidechurchgod.blogspot.com/2009/12/call-for-christmas-tree-sellers-to.html) and many fundamentalist Christian groups still forbid Christmas trees. Notice the Worldwide Church of God link mentions Jeremiah 10 as well.

Most of Christendom, continue to ignore the warnings contained in Jeremiah 10, and any other passage in the bible that contradicts their opinions. Are you/me kill sport if we do not join in the celebrations? Should we like many Christian groups join in the celebration and ignore the apparent link with paganism? Should we say, ‘it’s only a day, it won’t harm you?’ I see no reason why we should act against our conscience and flagrantly ignore the warnings. Let God be the judge!