Are Christmas Trees Idols?

I have seen a lot on the Internet of late about Christmas. One of the hot topics is the origin of the Christmas tree. What bothers me most about a lot of what I have read is that many people appear to simply throw assertions out with nothing to support their claims. Such as this comment by @Deathiepants, "Come on, let's be honest. A Christmas tree is just an Asherah pole anyway." No support given to support the claim, just the assertion that Christmas trees are Asherah poles. I read a Jewish cite condemning Christmas and Christmas trees. I even read an article from a Christian claiming that the entire tradition of Christmas is pagan and that God commands we not celebrate it at all. That being said, there are a great number of websites that cite credible sources regarding the origin of the Christmas tree—an excellent example is History.com.

There is no hard evidence which reveals exactly how the tradition of bringing an evergreen tree indoors and decorating it became intertwined with the Christmas celebration. There are a few facts that seem to indicate it came from a Germanic background. In this tradition, the evergreen tree was decorated with apples to recall the Garden of Eden and were popularly known as “Paradise Trees.” However, there were also traditions from many different cultures that would bring boughs of evergreen branches into their homes during the winter. The best explanation seems to be that the tradition was born out of Queen Victoria’s urging of Prince Albert to decorate a tree in 1848. This appears to be one of the singular acts that brought the Christmas tree into mainline Christmas tradition.

The claim that Christmas trees are really just Ashera poles bothers me because it is an assertion with no support. What is interesting is that many of those who claim this look to the Bible to try and claim support. The passage they regularly cite is Jeremiah 10:2-5, which reads:
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 a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.
At this point, the claim is along the lines of “God condemns the putting up of pagan (Christmas) trees with this plain Bible command!” So does the Bible condemn Christmas trees? Well, when one takes this passage in context that is not what God was condemning at all.

The cultures around the nation of Israel (and even Israel at times) would create gods to worship. One of the typical methods of doing this was to cut a tree down from the forest and carve it into the rough shape of the idol they were making. Then, they would cover the idol with gold or silver. This is similar to our modern day gold plating. It is cheaper to use an inferior metal for the bulk of something, and then cover it in a coating of the more expensive precious metal. Can you imagine trying to build a seven-foot statue of Zeus from solid gold to be placed in all of the temples erected to worship him across the Greek and Roman empires? It would be nearly impossible to locate that much gold and keep people from trying to steal the statues. Neither could many other ancient cultures when creating the images they worshiped. The wood served as the bulk of the idol while the precious metals and stones were then fashioned as a covering.

This is clearly seen when you look at some of the other biblical passages that address using trees to make idols. Isaiah 41:7 mentions the craftsmen “nailing down” the idol so it will not topple, just as it is in Jeremiah 10. A much longer treatment is given in Isaiah 44:12-20. In fact, the Bible uses sarcasm when condemning idol worship in this passage. Another place that mentions them using silver and gold when fashioning their idols is Isaiah 46:5-7 where individuals weigh out gold and silver and hire a craftsman to fashion a god(s) for them to worship.

It is abundantly clear that Jeremiah 10 is not condemning Christmas trees. What is being condemned is idol worship. There is no doubt about this when one considers the other passages mentioned. Besides, if they were worshiping the tree itself, why cut it down? Why not simply go out into the woods and worship the tree in all of its glory as many of the nature religions do?

At this point, I must tell you that I am not condoning nor condemning the practice of putting up Christmas trees. I can tell you that real Christmas trees smell great, but I hate having to clean up all of the needles left behind when it is time to take them down. What I can say is that Christmas trees most certainly have some roots in pagan worship practices. The choice to place a Christmas tree in your home or not is a choice that your family will have to make. I only wanted to make it clear that the Bible does not expressly forbid Christmas trees. I think that there would still be nay-sayers if Jesus’ birth was celebrated almost any other day of the year. Somewhere, someone would find some connection to a pagan celebration and then explain that we shouldn’t celebrate the birth of Jesus.

As for me and my house, we will most certainly celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. For without the advent of Jesus, there could not have been the greatest gift of all time—salvation.

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