With the Christmas Season now upon us, it is routine to hear those who would condemn trees decorated with ornaments as idolatrous. Some object on the basis that Christmas trees have pagan origins and have even taught that it is wrong for anyone to have a Christmas tree in their home. While this concern about the use of the Christmas tree is certainly understood, like everything in life, it is important to approach these issues with biblical discernment. Some have indicated that this practice is wrong because of the words in Jeremiah 10:1-5. These verses, however, do not apply to Christmas trees, but they do condemn the idolatry practiced in Jeremiah’s day.
There is nothing in the Bible that either commands or prohibits Christmas trees. It has been erroneously claimed by some that Jeremiah 10:1-16 prohibits the cutting down and decorating of trees in the same manner as we do at Christmas. The following passage from Jeremiah is often cited as support for the condemnation; 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 that it will not totter” However, even a cursory reading of the text makes it clear that the passage is one in which Jeremiah sets forth the prohibition against idols made of wood, plated with silver and gold, and worshipped.
While this passage may sound to modern ears like an uncanny description of Christmas trees from the sixth century BC, the historical and biblical context precludes this anachronistic reading of the text. Jeremiah’s description of a tree cut out of the forest and adorned with silver and gold and fastened with a hammer and nails so that it would not totter, is, therefore, a reference to wooden idols, not Christmas trees. There is no spiritual significance to having or not having a Christmas tree. Whatever choice we make, the motive behind a believer’s decision about this, as in all matters of conscience, must be to please the Lord. Romans 14:5-6 sets out the principle in a passage about liberty: “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. When we feel that somehow we have achieved a higher plain of spirituality by doing or not doing something about which the Bible is silent, we misuse our freedom in Christ, create divisions within His body, and thereby dishonor the Lord. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
The Christmas tree originated in Christian Germany two thousand years after Jeremiah’s condemnation of manmade idols. They evolved over time from two Christian traditions. One was a “paradise tree” hung with apples as a reminder of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. The other was a triangular shelf holding Christmas figurines decorated by a star. In the sixteenth century, these two symbols merged into the present Christmas tree tradition. It is important that we keep Christ central and our worship of Him unhindered in our observance of Christmas. Christian celebrations can certainly be complete without a tree adorned with ornaments. Like all symbolic objects that aid worshipful remembrance and celebration of Christ (the elements of communion, baptismal water, crosses, renderings, etc.), we must never allow Christmas trees or any object to take the place of that to which they point, which is God’s eternal redemptive purposes, from our fall in Paradise to our salvation in Christ.