22 November 2011

The Offense of Christmas Trees:

I recently saw a friend vent online about how he was upset that a store labeled their trees "holiday trees."  Whatever religion you are (or aren't), you probably call it a "Christmas tree."  Even my Jewish friends put up Christmas trees.  They really have no religious affiliation.  Yet not calling them "Christmas trees" may be more historically accurate, and not for the common notion that the tradition was originally pagan (like many aspects of this season).

Christians haven't always liked celebrating Christmas, particularly American Christians.  What is today one of the most holy of holidays was largely ignored or frowned upon. Early Christians did not observe Christmas at all.  Puritans, starting with Oliver Cromwell, preached against the "heathen traditions surrounding this sacred event."  These austere beliefs traveled with our much-revered Pilgrims over to the New World.  In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts fined people for hanging decorations; in fact, any observance of 25 December outside of church was outlawed. Not until the mid-19th century was Christmas finally made a legal holiday in Massachusetts. There is no mention of the Christmas tree in the United States prior to the 19th century.*

Concerning the tree itself, those of more orthodox faith point to Jeremiah 10:2-4:
2Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. 3For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. 4They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

Some websites believe this passage speaks more about idolatry, but if adorning a tree with expensive decorations and lights then placing it in a focal point of the home and surrounding it with presents isn't "excessive devotion"...

Nothing excessive about that.
There are those people today, such as my friend, who are upset that "Christmas" is being removed from the celebration of the season.  These angry people usually attribute it to the non-existent War on Christmas - this new evil brought about by liberals and their lawyers, by pagans and atheists.  Truthfully, there is nothing new here.  As previously mentioned, Puritans felt the heathens were ruining the sacred commemoration of Christ's birth with their frivolous decorations; even in 1885, popular publication Harper's Magazine ran an article discussing how some were worried that soon the holiday could become burdened by "all the excessive gifts and artificial social observances."

No room left at the inn, or under the tree, for Jesus.

Perhaps the most appropriate way for a Christian to celebrate the birth of Christ is in quiet reflection as in days of old - without the distractions of gifting, drinking, feasting and decorating.  Truly, referring to a decorated fir as a simple "holiday tree" may be more respectful of the nativity.

In addition, we can also stop hearing the ol' "Real or Fake Tree?" argument. 

[fake is better]

*Most agree that the German immigrants brought it to Pennsylvania; from there, the idea spread.


  1. Yup. The acme of Christian holidays has always been Easter, tied in intimately with the Passover. That said, the supposed "war on Christmas" is extracted from what some modern Christians (usually some flavor of evangelical Protestantism) see as an increasing secularization through legislation, which is true. Whether or not that's good is another discussion.