Decorating a tree during the Christmas season has become a cultural tradition in many countries. Is this symbolic display something that Christians should be doing today? Maybe you've heard that Christmas trees have pagan origins or that they have nothing to do with Christ. Well, there's some mixed-up history and theology in there.
The modern use of a decorated tree at Christmas doesn’t come from any source of paganism. In fact, there's no archeological evidence to support the idea that pagan religions even decorated trees for the purpose of worship. While it is true that the Romans celebrated winter solstice by decorating with greenery and lights, this was in celebration of Saturnus, the god of agriculture. In the late Middle Ages, Germans and Scandinavians would put evergreen trees just outside their doors or inside their homes to express a hope for the coming spring season.
The very first Christmas trees were decorated by Protestant Christians living in Germany in the 16th century. Our modern-day use of Christmas trees is an evolution of that German tradition. The use of decorated trees at Christmas was most likely a tradition carried over to the United States by Hessian troops during the American Revolution or with German immigrants to Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The Bible neither commands nor prohibits the use of Christmas trees. Some like to use Jeremiah 10:1-16 or Isaiah 44 as an argument against decorating trees. However, given the content (and even NOT given the context), it's pretty clear that what these passages are referring to is creating wooden idols plated in silver and gold. So unless Christians are going to carve their trees into idols, then bow down and worship them, there is nothing wrong with having a Christmas tree.
To have or not to have a decorated Christmas tree is not really a spiritual issue. Whatever choices we make in life, our motives should always be to please the Lord. 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” We must also use the "Christian liberty" principle of Romans 14:5-6a to respect other believers' convictions: “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.”
God is grieved when Christians compare their holiness and spirituality, looking down on one another for practices that are a matter of conscience. Spiritual pride is when we feel that we've achieved a higher level of piousness than someone else because we do or do not do something—especially when the Bible is silent on the topic. That's a misuse of our freedom in Christ and can only lead to division among believers.
So enjoy your Christmas tree if you want to. Or don't. Either way, let people celebrate Christmas in their own way—without judgment.
The Bible neither commands nor prohibits the use of Christmas trees. The modern use of a decorated tree at Christmas doesn’t come from pagan sources. The very first Christmas trees were decorated by Protestant Christians living in Germany in the 16th century. To have or not to have a Christmas tree is not really a spiritual issue but a matter of conscience. Whatever choices we make in life, our motives should always be to please the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31). Enjoy your Christmas tree if you want to. Or don't. Either way, let people celebrate Christmas in their own way—without judgment (Romans 14:5-6a).
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.