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#558 Should I Ditch our Christmas Tree?

December 24, 2017
Q

I would like to begin by thanking you for your commitment to the gospel and for your hard work in the Kingdom of God. I have been a Christian pastor for several years and I have a question that worries me. I would be very grateful if you could help me with your opinion on this subject. I am concerned about the usage of the Christmas tree in the celebration for the birth of Christ. There are some important facts: - The Christmas tree has a pagan origin, and was used in Celtic beliefs as part of pagan worship. - The Bible teaches us not to mix the pagan with the holy. This was the continuous struggle of the people of Israel from the time they left Egypt until they returned from the exile. Based on these two statements, should Christians use a Christmas tree as a decoration during the celebration of the birth of Christ? Where can I find more information to deepen in your response? I really appreciate your answer. 

In Christ,
Rayme
 

United States

Dr. craig’s response


A

I think that your conscience is way too tender, Rayme! I see nothing at all objectionable about displaying and enjoying a Christmas tree as part of the celebration of Christmas—not because it’s pretty or because the children love it (“sentimental hogwash!” as Old Potter would say), but very simply because, as you recognize, its meaning has changed since the time of its origin. Part of the genius of the church was that it infused new, Christian meanings into once pagan, but beloved, holidays and practices. The very fact that one would have to do research in order to uncover the original meaning of the Christmas tree is itself evidence of how thoroughly the meaning has changed since its inception. 

So whatever meaning the tree may have once had, the indisputable fact is that it no longer has that meaning but has become part of the celebration of Christ’s birth. It just doesn’t matter what it may have once meant to other people centuries ago but no longer means today.

You’re right to be concerned about religious syncretism, which involves the blending of other religious beliefs and practices which retain their meaning with Christianity. The Old Testament concern with syncretism is precisely that: the infection of Judaism with the pagan gods and beliefs of Israel’s neighbors. But in the Levitical system of sacrificial offerings we see a good example of how practices that were pagan were invested with new meaning in Israel’s worship. The burnt offering in particular existed in the Ancient Near East prior to the Levitical system of sacrifices and was taken up into it and given new meaning. The fact that pagan nations earlier sacrificed burnt offerings to their deities didn’t prevent the Lord’s incorporating burnt offerings into true, Jewish worship.

Similarly, the Christmas tree doesn’t represent a syncretistic blending of pagan beliefs or worship with Christian beliefs. Any pagan origins and meanings have rather been supplanted by Christian beliefs. For example, in the beloved Christmas carol “O Tannenbaum” the tree symbolizes faithfulness and endurance. In one version we find the verse:

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How sturdy God hath made thee!
Thou bidd'st us all place faithfully
Our trust in God, unchangingly!
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How sturdy God hath made thee!

(Makes you want to sing, doesn’t it?)  Here we have a Christian meaning expressed, and very few people know anything about earlier and now defunct meanings.

So enjoy your tree with your family and have a Merry (and meaningful) Christmas!

- William Lane Craig