O Christmas Tree

By:  Tonya Parrott

While you’re decorating your Christmas tree this year, I ask you to consider the passage written by the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 10:

Jeremiah 10:1-5 God and Idols

Hear what the LORD says to you, people of Israel. 2 This is what the LORD says:
“Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by signs in the heavens,
though the nations are terrified by them.
3 For the practices of the peoples are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
4 They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter.
5 Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field,
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.”

If you say, “That’s not what it is today.” Then I ask that you also consider the lyrics to the song ‘O Christmas Tree’ and its history:

O Christmas Tree

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
Not only green in summer’s heat,
But also winter’s snow and sleet.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely;
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely.
Each year you bring to us delight
With brightly shining Christmas light!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
We learn from all your beauty;
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
We learn from all your beauty.
Your bright green leaves with festive cheer,
Give hope and strength throughout the year.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
We learn from all your beauty.

Pagan cultures used to cut boughs of evergreen trees in December, move them into their homes and temples and decorate them. It was done in recognition of the Winter Solstice, the time of year that had the shortest daylight hours and longest night. (This occurs annually sometime between December 20 to 23, the first day of winter.)

As the solstice approached, the pagans noticed that the days were gradually getting shorter. They feared that the sun would eventually disappear forever and everyone would freeze in the dark and starve to death because of the failure of next year’s crops. But, even though deciduous trees, bushes, and crops died or hibernated for the winter, the evergreen trees remained green. They seemed to them to possess ‘magical’ powers that enabled them to withstand the rigors of winter and thus gave them hope for survival.

Winter Solstice was followed by the Saturnalia, a pagan Roman winter celebration that was later syncretized into the Church by Roman emperors, the most notable of which was Constantine, in an attempt to get the pagans to convert to Christianity without having to give up their pagan customs.

The Saturnalia was in honor of the agricultural god Saturn. It was celebrated around December 25th and was a time for feasting, goodwill, generosity to the poor, the exchange of gifts and the decoration of trees.

These customs were condemned by the true Church as paganism until 1851, when a German Lutheran minister by the name of Henry Schwan decorated the first Christmas tree in an American church in Cleveland, OH. Although his parishioners condemned the idea as a pagan practice, the custom caught on and is now practiced today in the majority of American homes.

In Biblical times, the Phoenicians and Canaanites referred to Saturn as Baal or Baalim. Interestingly, Baal is the pagan god of agriculture and his worship is rebuked by the Lord in the chapter of Jeremiah that comes just before His rebuke of tree decoration and worship:

Jeremiah 9:13-16

The LORD said, “It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law. 14 Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts; they have followed the Baals, as their ancestors taught them.” 15 Therefore this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “See, I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water. 16 I will scatter them among nations that neither they nor their ancestors have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them.”

So, I ask you, is this really not what it is today?

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