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Saturday, December 25, 2021

Are Christmas trees really pagan?

 


I read a column this morning by a pastor promoting Christmas. “If you encounter someone telling you Christmas is pagan,” he said, “Ask them how they feel about using the calendar, since every day-name and nearly every month-name is honoring a pagan god.” I’m sure he felt that was a real zinger of an argument.

Here’s why he’s wrong.

God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel, were not condemned for using the month-name “Tammuz”, named for a Babylonian god, for their summer month corresponding to the latter half of our June (named by the Romans for the god Junus). The Jews had been exiled to Babylon, whose calendar dominated the entire Middle East at the time and long after the Babylonian nation ceased to exist. Interacting in that world required the Jews to use words with which others could identify. Calling their summer month Tammuz did not mean they were honoring or worshiping that pagan god.

However, when the Jews in the wilderness built a golden calf and began dancing around it in what they called “a festival to Jehovah”, Jehovah was not amused: he ordered the slaughter of those celebrants, and 3,000 died. The apostle Paul later explained, “You cannot eat at the Lord's Table and at the table of demons, too." (1 Corinthians 10:21)

As one commentator on 1 Corinthians 10 put it, “It's not that the food, in either case, necessarily carries some supernatural power. It's that the act of eating from those tables is an act of joining oneself to that specific ‘lord’.”

So, is a Christian who uses the words ‘January’ or ‘Wednesday’ worshiping the gods Janus or Woden? Of course not.

Well, by that same logic, Christians aren't "worshiping" their Christmas trees, are they? Or are they?

A Christian who sees or walks past an evergreen tree in winter isn’t worshiping Woden (Odin), even though Woden's worship involved bringing evergreens into the house at the winter solstice and decorating them. But a person purposely doing that act –  even though they don’t know the origin of it and claim their actions are in memory of Jesus – how can they claim to be Christian? 

- Continues below.

 

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Does the Bible talk about using trees in a worshipful way? Actually, it does:

  • You should completely destroy all the places where the nations you will dispossess have served their gods, whether on the high mountains or on the hills or under any luxuriant TREE. You should pull down their altars, shatter their sacred pillars, burn their sacred poles (carved tree trunks) in the fire, and cut down the graven images of their gods, obliterating their very names from that place.” (Deuteronomy 12:2, 3)
  •  “You worship the fertility gods by having sex under those sacred trees of yours. You offer your children as sacrifices in the rocky caves near stream beds.” (Isaiah 57:5)

That last quote is from a rather loose translation. The Bible spares us many of the lurid details of how exactly the pagans used trees in their worship. But a few minutes on Google will satisfy the curious that many, many cultures around the globe have had pagan rites that involved tree worship, trees linked to various gods, sacrifices under trees, and sex amid ‘sacred trees'. 

On the other hand, the Bible is completely silent about any tree, decorated or otherwise, having anything whatsoever to do with remembering Jesus.

Decorating a tree in your house with any idea that you associate with worship is inexcusable. It has nothing to do with Christianity, and everything to do with worshiping a false god. And no amount of justification makes it otherwise. 

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Bill K. Underwood is a columnist, Bible scholar and photographer. He is the author of the self-help book "99 Ways to Fire Your Boss" as well as three novels, available in either paperback or ebook on Amazon.com.

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