Most of us have some significant point of reference for when the Christmas season officially starts. It may be Thanksgiving Day, or the sighting of the first in-store Christmas displays in August, or that payday just before December 25th, or some other moment that has particular significance to you. I have several candidates for that esteemed role, one of which is the appearance of the very first “Christmas Trees are Pagan Idols” email message of the season.
In case you’ve never read one of these, the format and content are quite predictable. The writer points out that Jesus wasn’t born in December, the scripture never tells us to celebrate His birthday anyway, Christmas has its roots in a pagan holiday, Santa is an emissary of the devil, and Christmas Trees are pagan idols.
What these folks are proclaiming is somewhat true. Some Bible scholars have decided that Jesus was probably born in the springtime. There is no Bible verse that says “go ye therefore and celebrate Christ’s birth.” The December celebration that we call Christmas was once a pagan celebration of the winter solstice, until it was “Christianized” by Constantine, to satisfy the people’s desire to continue the annual celebration even after He had ordered them to become Christians (somewhat akin to ordering a cat to do… well, anything). Christmas trees are an adaptation of an idolatrous tradition attached to the pagan roots of the celebration.
So, if all these things are true, why do I continue to celebrate this horrid holiday? Well, to start with, I’ve yet to meet anyone (other than the above-mentioned email generators) who think of Christmas in terms of celebrating the winter solstice. Ask the worst of today’s pagan idol worshipers what religious significance is attached to Christmas, and they will tell you that Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth—even if they celebrate something else around at that time. While the scriptures don’t provide direct proof-text support for celebrating Christmas, we do see support for celebrating Jesus, and celebrating His miraculous, virgin birth is certainly consistent with that.
Without a doubt, secular retailers have taken over Christmas, and turned it into a celebration of marketing and materialism. Santa Claus has certainly become their materialistic mascot—to the point that there is some support for the argument that he’s been set up as a “pagan idol.” Christians are called to be lights in the darkness, living “in the world” while not being “of the world.” We have one image of Santa Claus in our house, of him kneeling reverently before the manger, with his hat off and head bowed. It serves to keep us focused on the central celebration of Christ’s virgin birth, and does so quite nicely.
And yes, we do have a Christmas tree. Our tree is adorned with family heirloom ornaments, some of which belonged to Sharon’s mother. Over the years, we’ve purchased one or more ornaments each year that speak to the highlights (or in some cases, the lowlights) of the year. Each year, we gather as a family to decorate our tree, and recount the years that we’ve been together and the many trials that God has seen us through. We’re reminded of His faithfulness, the very same faithfulness that led to Jesus’ birth some 2000 years ago. The first time that I see anyone bowing down and worshiping that tree as a god, I will personally remove it from its place of honor and throw it out into the street. If it ever comes to that, I’ll keep the ornaments, of course, and we’ll find some other way to display them and remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness to us.
To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, “sometimes a tree is just a tree.” I feel sorry for folks who are paranoid about things like Christmas trees having distant roots in some pagan ritual. They are so worried that they may somehow not be able to earn and maintain God’s favor that they miss out on the freedom and joy that Christ’s birth allows. They’ve missed the whole point. We can’t earn and maintain God’s favor through our own efforts. That’s why Jesus came—to bridge the gap between God and man, and provide a way for us to enter into the intimate, joyous relationship with God that we were designed to have. When you understand that, you understand true freedom and joy.
Light up that tree, and Celebrate Jesus!