Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, we bow down and worship thee . . .

Tree-1Just kidding. Its only a stupid tree. But there are some people in our spiritual community that feel Christmas trees are a pagan addition to an already pagan festival. Thus they will not be pulling any crackers this season and they did not turn up at our town’s Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony (pictured).

Which causes me to ask two questions:

1. Is Christmas pagan?

2. How do we get along with anti-Christmas believers in our community?

1. The Pagan Factor: Our family has been discussing Christmas and the various pagan associations with it. Are we participating in a pagan festival with the face of baby Jesus on it? What about Jeremiah 10 and the use of trees?

John MacArthur argues for a pagan-free Christmas tree, referencing Luther and giving a sure and certain word in his post on Christmas Trees“There is no connection between the worship of idols and the use of Christmas trees. We should not be anxious about baseless arguments against Christmas decorations.”

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This is very different from the Reformer’s view of Christmas in this country which, like the Grinch, squashed Christmas for hundreds of years. I tend to agree with MacArthur’s conclusions on how to treat Christmas, and his challenge to focus on Jesus, but I am not as certain as he is that there is no connection between paganism and Christmas. In fact, it is very possible, yea, even likely, that missionaries redeemed the German Yule and its solstice rituals (mistletoe, holy, ham, etc) and turned it into what we now call Christmas. But that should not freak us out and that does not mean we cannot make good use of it for God. Thats what we plan to do this season.

2. The Ecumenical Factor: What about getting along with those who disagree with us?

Not every believer will come up with the same list of holy days. “One person regards one day as holier than other days, and another regards them all alike. Each must be fully convinced in his own mind” Romans 14:5

So, if your conviction is to celebrate Christmas, by all means put on that party hat, decorate that tree and roast that turkey but don’t push that particular conviction on to other believers lest you become a stumbling block. “Therefore do not pass judgment on one another, but rather determine never to place an obstacle or a trap before a brother or sister.” Romans 14:13.

And if God’s good people are giving you hell because of your Christmas tree, and if you are convinced in your own mind that you are celebrating Christmas to the glory of God, then stick up for what you believe. “Therefore do not let what you consider good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:16-17

And in sticking up for what you believe, give them some space for what they believe also.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Tell you what it means to me . . . now i feel a song coming on . . come on now . .


And in my opinion, we wrestle more with the idolatry of materialism and consumerism at Christmas time than with possible historical connections with earth religions. This is the real battle.

In case you are interested, I am preaching at the local Baptist church this Sunday on Christmas and a theology of celebration, in light of the Scottish Covenanters and the Reformed disapproval of the “popery” of Christmas. It will be honest, and accurate, but it will also have a happy ending and i hope, a satisfying finish for those who like the tree and those who don’t.

Related:

Our Post-Reformation Christmas (2005)

How Your Emerging Church can Stay in Calvary Chapel will show you why Christmas displays may be the highlight of your year, as well as pointing you to the origin of the nativity scene [hint . . . an Italian with a tonsure]

Yule on Wikipedia

This post was extended from the original

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

12 Comments

  • The highlight of the year for me when I lived in Scotland was driving to a nearby woodland estate to get the Christmas tree. Now I live in Hong Kong it has to be orderesd through a company that imports them from the US. It is still a highlight of the year when it arrives though. Ours comes on Monday this year! I love all the festivities at Christmas. If Jesus was here and it was his birthday. I would buy a cake and throw a party. I can’t see the problem doing the same even though he isn’t physically present!
    Have a great birthday party up there in Orkney.

  • Andrew,
    Great questions. Families should explore the history behind various traditions to learn, and come to have a greater appreciation for other cultures and their contributions, as well as explore what God’s Word has to say on the matter. We like getting our family together each December evening during the family devotional gathering and talking about various holiday traditions. There are so many areas to explore from songs to foods to decorations; the list seems endless. The following url is a good one to go to and find out about some of these “origins”. http://www.geocities.com/christmasquiz2002/docs/christmasquiz.pdf
    Regarding the Christmas tree tradition question, it seems a bit humorous how some in Christian circles condemn the use of Christmas trees as a “pagan” practice to be avoided while at the same time those in secular progressive circles condemn the use of Christmas trees as a “Christian” tradition to be avoided. We’re a crazy people sometimes, and have to laugh at ourselves.
    I think, for my family, the important thing is not to get too caught up in what other people think, but to strive to do all things as unto Christ, and to live before Him with a clear conscience. If we pray about these things, God will make it clear to our hearts through the Holy Spirit what course is best for us to follow. God and His Word should alwasy serve as our guide, and where Scripture does not speak clearly in word, God will speak clearly through the Spirit. Of course, it helps to have a relationship that involves listenting to the Spirit’s leading on a regular basis. I have been guilty of being mule-headed in the past and not listening to the Spirit, and that can take us places we shouldn’t go. . . .
    Anyway, we love the whole Christmas tree undertaking, and going out to get the fool thing is one of the highlights of the season. Which one is just right, and how far will we have to carry it? Seems like every time we find one we like, there is another just a bit further into the trees that might be a little better. I remember one year when I found the perfect tree, but the snow was so deep around it I could hardly move after I cut it down. Everyone got a good laugh out of watching me struggle and flail away in the snow. It seemed to take hours to get it back to the trail where the sled awaited. Living in Alaska in the middle of the forest makes for lots of choices and opportunities to find just the right tree. I love seeing all the people driving around town with the trees being taken home somehow “affixed” to the vehicle. Seems there are about as many ways to get them home as their are folks out there trying to do so.
    One of the traditions we enjoy is keeping the tree after the holiday, letting it dry out somewhere, and then at Easter, cutting the trunk into two pieces and fashioning a crude cross from it to display somewhere in the cabin. It helps to remind us of the tie between his birth and the resurrection in a very visible way. Aside from the reasons behind the traditions, I think it is important just to have a few that are practiced each year, that the family can look forward to, and carry with them into their own families.
    Say have you heard about the tradition where you tie a candy cane to the collar of your family pet and . . . . nevermind.

  • No Christmas Tree for us this year, Andrew. Nothing to do with pagans or Germans. Last year, Cynthia was on a ladder trimming the tree, lost her balance, BROKE her arm. Bad memories related to Christmas trees for a while I’m afraid..

  • We saw a brilliant programme on PBS 5[?] years ago, that broke down all the ‘traditions’ and where they came from. It was a documentary format, informational [not debunking or condemning] If anyone knows the title of that I’d love to track it down and watch it again.
    Best wishes
    http://whitterer-autism.blogspot.com

  • I understand all of the hubbalo that goes on regarding Christmas. I myself was a self-professed Scrooge for a long time.
    I have now learned two separate the holiday into two things in my mind.
    1. Advent. This is my favorite section of the Holiday. The rhythm of celebrating the coming of Christ and the incarnation. It is a joy to my heart.
    2. Christmas. The only way that I have been able to handle the “Christmas” holiday is by sheer extravagance. The wife and I don’t spend much money, but I try to make the more secular aspect of the holiday so grandiose that it is easily separateed from the celebration of Christ. One day I plan to outdo the Grizzwald’s house on Christmas vacation.
    Through these two things I have found it easy to personally celebrate what I believe about Christmas, but to also not be such a scrooge around my wife and family, which always bummed them out.

  • Leaving aside trees for the moment. Is anyone else out there as irritated as I am by the trend, which seems to be gathering momentum this year, to send cards that don’t mention Christmas? The shops seem to be pushing the ‘Happy Holidays’ card and the ‘Season’s Greetings’ message. Whatever we as Christians may feel about non-Christians sending these kind of cards, surely we ought to be using the opportunity. If we are going to send cards at this time of year, let’s make sure that they say something about Christmas and the birth of our Lord. And let’s stop buying pictures of reindeers, snowy scenes, and the like and use the occasion to stress a Christian message.
    I have launched a Campaign for Real Christmas Cards in my church! Anyone want to join?

  • I take it we are not into interfaith worship practices with the pagans (you know just to develop a better relationship between our two great faiths)… seriously though, surely a Christmas tree is symbolic of more than one thing?
    Ross- I guess part of me thinks your not a ‘Christian’ so why send me a ‘Christian’ card (it’s meaningless, a weird habit of the passing Christendom era) but then the other part of me says ‘go John Sentamu’ (the Arch Bish who’s fighting this issue)- I mean atleast by raising the question of the so called ‘Christian’ identity of this country he’s raising the serious question of what it means to celebrate ‘Christ Mass’. However, I suspect whether we send ‘Seasons Greetings’ or ‘Christmas’ cards is a relatively small issue when it comes to what does it mean to be a Christian in the twenty-first century?

  • Nice post as it hits directly at many of the same questions/thoughts I have had this season. We started to decorate the tree yesterday and I was in a constant state of prayer and contemplation “is this right for me and my family”? You are right in that we are much more focused on the material aspects as opposed to the earth worship connections.

  • Your mention of Christians redeeming the Yule celebration reminded me of a visit to Rome a few years ago. My husband and I stumbled upon the Pantheon and wandered inside … only to hear a group of worshippers singing Taize songs! What a fitting reminder that the building has been a church for many years, depite the fact that everyone refers to it by its pagan name. Christians have been baptising elements of culture (holidays, building, etc) for centuries. And it seems to me the ones that have been so incorporated into the life of believers are the least problematic. I’ll happily put up my tree this year … even share my kid’s excitement about Santa Claus (he was a Christian saint, remember). What I’d love to get away from is the frenzy of shopping and the materialism stirred up by the holidays.

  • Tradition? Decoration? Reminder? Entertainment? Family moments? Yes let’s take an interest in past rituals and traditions, but only for interest in history. Each family has their own traditions when it comes to Christmas and that’s okay, but I agree with you when it comes to judging and tearing it down for others. Let’s not and still enjoy each other.
    Christmas trees and lights are what they are…bright, beautiful, and joyful especially when you see a child light up inside just by the very sight.
    You want to enjoy God’s light show? Lay down in a field on a clear night for hours just looking at His art in the sky, or watch the sunrise and sunset.
    In some cultures I’m either pagan or don’t fear God because I have short hair and my son is growing his. That’s okay, because my heart is okay with it.

  • the last few yrs we got our christmas tree from heaven. ok, explanation. we live in the part of world with the tallest trees in the world,being the Redwoods. After a storm there was a tree just the right size for a christmas tree. when my son draged it to the door i took it as a sign. Then it happened again. So far this yr there has not been a storm to give us that type of tree, but with mom coming in from east coast I’ll probally find a tree as she Loves christmas and the family time around christmas has always been very sweet for our family. except the one yr. we had what I call the “Osborne (as in Ozzy) christmas….thats another story though….

  • Andrew,
    Would love a copy of your sermon notes, if possible. I think it’s about time there was some serious work done on a theology of celebration (party), so that followers of Jesus who are sick of Christianwowserism can see that it is a God given gift to be able to celebrate milestones and landmarks in life and history by actually having a good time! :-0
    In our day, when people are no longer looking to the ‘church’ to help them celebrate their milestones and the things they see as valuable, maybe we need to ask, ‘What are people celebrating, and how can we celebrate with them?’ thus showing that God is interested in and enthusiastic about their lives. At least many people still celebrate Christmas even if they don’t know or understand its true meaning. Maybe instead of trying to get theminto our churches for carol nights where they celebrate on our terms, why not get out among them and join their celebrations with trees and santas and presents (and a beer or two), and be salt and light?
    Tall And Not-So-Skinny Aussie.

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