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Are Christmas Trees Pagan?
John MacArthur: Should Christians Have Christmas Trees?
:…. even if a pagan background were clearly established, that wouldn’t necessarily mean we could not enjoy the use of a Christmas tree.”
“When a child pulls a large present out from under the Christmas tree and unwraps a large model cargo plane, no one views that object as an idol. Nor do we view the Christmas tree to be some kind of gift god. We understand the difference between a toy and an idol just as clearly as we understand the difference between an idol and a Christmas tree. We see no valid reason to make any connection between Christmas trees and wooden idols or the worship of trees. Those who insist on making such associations should take note of the warnings in Scripture against judging one another in doubtful things (see Romans 14 & 1 Corinthians 10:23-33).”
Answers in Genesis: Do Christmas Trees Have Pagan Roots?
When reading most historical sources on the origin of the Christmas tree, it is almost universally and offhandedly mentioned that it was borrowed from pagan religious festivals and adapted into Christianity. But when one closely examines these claims, they seem to have little basis in fact. Most of the traditions associated with pagan festivals are only remotely similar to Christmas celebrations. But even a cursory glance at Scripture shows that evergreens were mentioned prominently in Scripture and were associated with God’s favor towards his people (Numbers 24:6, Psalms 104:16, Isaiah 41:19) or were mentioned in connection with testifying to the goodness of God (Psalms 148:9, Isaiah 55:13). Solomon loved cedars and (c. 1000 BC), he imported them into Jerusalem and made them commonplace within the city (2 Chronicles 9:27). In Isaiah 60:13 (c. 700 BC) we read that the Lord promised that fragrant evergreen trees such as the cedar, cypress, and pine would be brought from Lebanon and be planted around the Temple to beautify it. Indeed, the first Temple, built by Solomon was constructed of cedar and cypress wood (1 Kings 6:15), and when God spoke of revitalizing Israel, he specifically mentioned planting cedar, cypress, and pine trees (and others) in the wilderness (Isaiah 41:19). We can glean from Scripture then that evergreen trees were used for decorating and building and were well-loved trees.
A common reason given by those wishing to force a tie-in between pagan superstitions and Christmas is that evergreen plants warded off sickness, evil spirits and witches, or that the sun god became weakest near the winter solstice and evergreen trees showed that he would soon be returning to strength and vigor. Other cultures associated evergreen boughs with certain gods (for the Norse it was Balder) or as symbols of everlasting life. But the association of a tree with prosperity and long life for those who loved the Lord was mentioned several times in Scripture (Psalm 1:3, 52:8, 92:12, Proverbs 11:30, Jeremiah 17:7-8, Hoshea 14:6-8), long before Norse mythology sprang up.
As far as the modern practice of cutting evergreen trees, bringing them into the home and decorating them for Christmas, that can (arguably) be traced back to Germany in the 16th Century (although Estonia and Latvia claim that they were the first country to decorate a Christmas tree). There is even an unsubstantiated tradition that Martin Luther while walking in the forest, saw moonlight (or starlight) coming through the tree branches and was dazzled by the beauty of the scene. Luther went out and cut down a fir tree and brought it into his house. He then decorated it with candles to simulate the moonlight effect for his family. Whether that particular legend is true or not, there can be no doubt that Luther furthered the popularization of Christmas celebrations in Germany, including writing his first Christmas Carol in 1524 (later turned into a cantata by J.S. Bach ).
The decoration of Christmas trees in areas outside of continental Europe can be traced to Queen Victoria and her husband Albert’s Christmas tree, which was decorated, adorned with presents, and documented in 1846 by the Illustrated London News. After seeing this sketch (and probably witnessed by a few nobles) word spread of the Royal family’s tree and soon many in England were putting decorated trees into their homes.