A question about Christmas Trees…

 


December 1, 2001


A dear-heart sent this in:

 

Hello. If you can not answer this, would you have any links I could go to to find out?  I am trying to make a decision as to having a Christmas tree.  We have five children, and last year we decided against one.  However we are being questioned now as to why not. I know the case of it being use before for worship in solstice, I too know that the story of Martin Luther decorating a tree is probably a myth, but I need some help on this issue.  Is it wrong for Christians to have Christmas trees?  Help.  We want only to honor God in our home, and not open any doors by doing what is not honoring him.

 

 

I wrote back:

 

"I can only tell you what I have come to believe--I don't know any links...

 

1. When I was a young parent, I wrestled with the same issue, but always semi-grudgingly gave in to having  one for my kidlets.

 

2. Later, as I began to understand the 'meat offered to idols' and 'religious days' issue in Romans 14 and 15, I began to understand better what freedom there was about such matters, when done in love.

 

3. Since I personally (as well as my kids) had ABSOLUTELY NO CONNECTION to either ancient pagan traditions nor Martin Luther's, I found it difficult to see why events from someone else, in a far distant past, unknown (or at least not taken seriously one way or another) by all my 'pagan' friends (cf. 1 cor 10), and of no logical connection to a tree(!) should enslave me...It made less and less sense over the years.

 

4. And the straw that finally broke the camel's back--on the issue of whether something's more-or-less-unknown history still 'taints' it, or makes it 'unclean'--came the day I learned that the English word 'nice' came from an Old Latin word 'nescius''--which meant 'stupid'. I realized that the ancient meaning of that word--as a linguistic symbol--was in NO WAY 'smuggled into' my uses of the modern word 'nice'. [And the same for many other words, phrases, symbols of no consequence today.] I realized that the origin or some ancient meaning/significance to something MIGHT HAVE BEEN a reason to not use it BACK THEN, but it had NO BEARING on whether I should bless someone's heart today by telling them 'nice job' or 'what a nice gesture' or 'what nice children'...

 

5. And when I compared the tree issue with similar issues in the New Testament, it became clear to me that I had gone a little overboard in my concern. The issues Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians and in Romans 14.15 deal with issues MUCH more likely to be 'tainted'. The meat sacrificed to idols issue was a VERY hot topic of the day (unlike obscure backgrounds of Christmas customs--most of which nobody really cares about today), and there was not question about the 'background' of such meat. Likewise, the observance/honoring of Sabbaths or religious festivals (cf. Col 2:16: "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ."), was a current and hot topic. But Paul said these were 'indifferent things' and things which were a matter of individual choice: if you wanted to honor one day above another, go ahead. If you wanted to eat the meat from the temples, go ahead (as long as you knew the meat was nothing special). [Rom 14]…So, when there is grace and freedom about such VERY contemporary and VERY well-known and very 'religious-looking' matters in the New Testament, it is difficult for me to make the much-less-dramatic issue of 'Christmas trees' into something to be avoided, on Biblical grounds.

 

The law of love, of course, "limits" all actions, and our freedoms are no exception to this. But 'stumbling blocks' are NOT about those with critical spirits (who would be offended and/or outraged that we don’t follow the same austere rules they do), but about those who violate their sensitive conscience by doing what they might still THINK is wrong [The Rom 14 passage]. Our self-restrictions are NOT about legalists, then, but about those who believe that today's symbols STILL carry all the taint of the past. In the case of Christmas trees, I don't know anybody--pagan OR Christian--who somehow believes that these trees are somehow still the property of evil...

 

…just as I don’t know many Christians who avoid using the word "Wednesday", due to its reference to the pagan god Wodin…nor many pagans who accuse Christians of hypocrisy and syncretism in so doing!

 

Now, there ARE symbols in our (any) culture that do carry "current taint" unlike Christmas trees or Wednesday. In US culture, for example, I personally would not use the Swastika or a Pentagram--the associations are still too fresh, tight, and well-known. But the difference between these and Christmas trees is measured in light-years, in my opinion.

 

So, after personally wrestling with this for years, I came to the conclusion that this was another item I had been 'pharisaical' about...that it was no different than other cultural, non-religious , non-symbolic (or forgotten symbolic) items--fireworks on New Year, balloons on birthdays, candy on Valentines, and flowers at the gravesites of loved ones...it was a way to BLESS, not CURSE...it was 'only' a fragrant place to hang decorations, as part of building love and shared experiences within a family...the good of sharing that innocent practice (especially to our kids, who knew and cared NOTHING about whatever ancient uses it was put to!) in celebration (as long as we thanked our Lord for our tree and the time to decorate it together--cf. 1 Cor 10.30 and I Tim 4.3-4), converted an 'ordinary thing' into an object of beauty and a conduit of grace and warmth.

 

And I think that half the time, a 'common' issue like this becomes a 'sanctified' one SIMPLY through the questioning of your own hearts--your desire to honor the Precious One with every choice and pattern in your family's life lifts the common into that sacred space in His heart...and the willingness to sacrifice it to Him, is better than any sacrifice itself would have been...

 

So, my thinking has led me to this: Christmas trees don't matter themselves; purity of heart and pursuit of love and celebration in growing a family matters--whether it involves 'trees' or not (smile)...so, I suggest you get a tree and--as a thankful family--celebrate it and decorate it "as hard as you can" ...the little drummer boy thing: "I have no gifts to bring; I'll play my drum for him'..."do all in the name of the Lord Jesus"...grow beauty in your kids and your own lives this way...

 

Just my thoughts (I scrambled to get this off to you quickly, so it is probably VERY UNCLEAR)...I hope it helps get you started in thinking through this further...

 

warmly,

glenn

 


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