You know it’s Christmas when you start seeing a Christmas tree everywhere you go. In malls. Outside malls. In houses. Along the streets.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas trees. There’s nothing like a Christmas tree – especially a big one bedecked with decorations and laden with gifts beneath – to bring in the festive mood of the season.
While you’d likely see a Christmas tree in a Christian home, some Christians are cautious about celebrating the Christmas tree too much. as it is now associated more with non-Christian Christmas traditions, and some even say can be traced back to pagan roots.
Being the inquisitive soul that I am, I decided to do a bit of digging. (Which generally means some online research on the topic and Wikipedia-ing).
Surprisingly, I found that the modern Christmas tree has Christian roots – it’s attributed to Martin Luther in the 16th century.
Luther saw starlight through an evergreen tree while walking home one evening and wanted to replicate it for his family. So he brought a tree into the house and decorated it with candles.
Apparently, the Lutheran origins wasn’t popular at the time (due to resistance to the Protestant Reformation). So, the practice and the story didn’t take off till later.
Though there are sources that try to link the origin of the Christmas tree with early pagan worship of trees (as symbols of eternal life), the actual relevance of these practices is disputed. After all, nobody today worships the Christmas tree or uses it as a talisman to ward off evil.
In fact, the evergreen conifer, recognised as the modern Christmas tree, is linked to another story of an earlier missionary.
Saint Boniface was a missionary in the region of Germany about a thousand years before Luther. He was said to have cut down an old oak dedicated to Thor, to disprove the locals’ pagan worship. Many converted to Christianity after seeing no harm come upon him for what he did.
The story goes that a young evergreen grew in the place of the oak. And Boniface used that to teach the locals about God, pointing out that the triangle shape of the conifer reflected the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As such, it was a better reminder to humanity about God.
So while the Christmas tree certainly isn’t an object of worship, it can serve as a pointer to God.
There are many other tales and theories surrounding the Christmas tree. Some say it’s a throwback to the tree in the garden of Eden, and the red baubles represent the forbidden fruit. Some say the star at the top represent the angels or the archangel Gabriel, or the star guiding the magi.
But then again, who’s to say it doesn’t represent the tree of life instead? And the star Jesus, the Bright and Morning Star? Or even us, in our new creation identity in Christ? After all, believers are often depicted as strong trees in the Bible (Psalm 1:3, Psalm 92:12, Psalm 52:8), and we are abounding with gifts in Christ, with Christ as our head.
But surely there is no better and simpler reminder in the Christmas tree than this: that it speaks of Jesus Christ being hung on a tree.
The definition of a tree includes a wooden structure, such as a post or a pole. And especially in an archaic and literary sense, the cross on which Christ was crucified.
The Bible tells us in Galatians 3:13 that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree‘).
And in 1 Peter 2:24, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sin, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed”.
A reminder of being forever redeemed from every curse, and that we possess all manner of healing, because Christ was crucified on our behalf. That’s reason enough to celebrate the Christmas tree.
As with many Christmas traditions, debate may remain on how originally ‘Christian’ or ‘pagan’ they actually are. But at the end of it, many of the ‘non-Christian’ things are little more than distractions. And God never bothers with distractions, but simply focuses on His agenda.
Let us rejoice for the season of Christmas, where the coming of Christ to save the world is openly celebrated.
And the next time we see a Christmas tree, let us remember the glorious work He did that brings redemption and healing to all who wish to receive.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.