Each December, I receive questions about different aspects of Christmas. I am frequently asked if it is biblically wrong to have a Christmas tree. Usually people ask this question because they have either read or heard that scripture speaks against having a Christmas tree, and invariably, when the TREE QUESTION is tracked down in Scripture it usually comes down to Jeremiah 10 which says:
“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.”
6 No one is like You, LORD;
You are great,
and Your name is mighty in power.
7 Who should not fear You,
King of the nations?
This is Your due.
Among all the wise leaders of the nations
and in all their kingdoms,
there is no one like You.
8 They are all senseless and foolish;
they are taught by worthless wooden idols.
9 Hammered silver is brought from Tarshish
and gold from Uphaz.
What the craftsman and goldsmith have made
is then dressed in blue and purple—
all made by skilled workers.
10 But the LORD is the true God;
He is the living God, the eternal King.
When He is angry, the earth trembles;
the nations cannot endure His wrath.
11 “Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’”
12 But God made the earth by His power;
He founded the world by His wisdom
and stretched out the heavens by His understanding.
13 When He thunders, the waters in the heavens roar;
He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth.
He sends lightning with the rain
and brings out the wind from his storehouses.
14 Everyone is senseless and without knowledge;
every goldsmith is shamed by his idols.
The images he makes are a fraud;
they have no breath in them.
15 They are worthless, the objects of mockery;
when their judgment comes, they will perish.
16 He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these,
for He is the Maker of all things,
including Israel, the people of His inheritance—
the LORD Almighty is His name.”(Jeremiah 10:1-16)
So, do these verses condemn the modern Christmas tree? No! Even though some claim Jeremiah is talking about Christmas trees here, it’s just not the case. When you read the full chapter in context, Jeremiah is speaking against foreign people making idols of TREES AND WOOD that are plated with gold and silver and then worshipped. So it is idol worship that is condemned by Jeremiah 10. Isaiah does the same thing in chapter 44, when he scoffs at those idol worshippers who cut down a tree and burn half of the tree in the fire to keep themselves warm and then make the other half into an idol.
Both Jeremiah 10 and Isaiah 44 flow out of the 2nd commandment found in Exodus 20 which states, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.”(Exodus 20:4-6)
Thus, the Bible does not prohibit Christmas trees unless you are in the habit of treating them as idols and bowing down to them or praying to them. As best I can tell, the modern Christmas tree does NOT have pagan or idol-worshipping origins. The Romans did celebrate the winter solstice and honor Saturnus, their agricultural god, with greenery and other celebratory traditions. Similarly, in the middle ages, the Germans placed evergreen trees inside their homes as they waited for spring to come.
The first Christmas tree was decorated in the sixteenth century by German Protestant Christians. Historically, our modern Christmas tree developed from the traditions of the Germans and not the pagan idol worshippers rebuked by Jeremiah and Isaiah in the Old Testament times.
So, I do not think a Christmas tree that is beautifully decorated for the right reason at the right season is in any way wrong for a Christian. Unless they plan to bow down to the tree, treat it as an idol or pray to it—then again, if your plan is to do those things to the Christmas tree you probably do not understand Christmas anyway.
However, I also know some very good Christians who choose not to have a Christmas tree, and I fully support their decision as well. After all, Paul spoke of this in Romans 14 by writing, “ One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord…” (Romans 14:5-6).
So if you choose not to have a Christmas tree, good for you. However, if you choose to have a Christmas tree–decorate away! Just do it for the right reason. The right reason is this, “…the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
Merry Christmas,
John Mark Caton