Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Why a Christmas Tree?

Why do you have a Christmas tree inside your house?

I have an odd sense of humor. This one gets me chuckling at people. I think we are a funny lot. I think it's pretty random that at this time of year people put a fair bit of energy into getting either an evergreen tree, or a fake thing that looks like an evergreen tree and place it in a prominent place in their home.

Why a tree?

Why not a shepherds rod?

A simple stick could be placed in the center of our living room as a memory of the shepherds the good news was shared with. This could remind us that simple folk can also share the good news with others.

We could celebrate by dancing around the pole... OK, I digress.

Why not a feeding trough?

We could decorate a feeding trough with fake hay, and fake animal feed. This could remind us of the upside down nature of the kingdom of God. How our Majestic God chose a humble and dirty place for His coming to earth.

A feeding trough could also have a second meaning, symbolizing how we tend to act like gluttonous pigs during this season. No, maybe we don't want to celebrate our gluttony. I digress again....

Do we know why we put up a tree?

There may be a few origins to this tradition. I'll share a few findings I've come across. There may be many more.

Many Pagan cultures used to cut boughs of evergreen trees in December, move them into the home or temple, and decorate them. Modern-day Pagans still do. This was to recognize the winter solstice -- the time of the year that had the shortest daylight hours, and longest night of the year. This occurs annually sometime between DEC-20 to 23; most often, it is DEC-21. As the solstice approached, they noticed that the days were gradually getting shorter; many feared that the sun would eventually disappear forever, and everyone would freeze. But, even though deciduous trees, bushes, and crops died or hibernated for the winter, the evergreen trees remained green. They seemed to have magical powers that enabled them to withstand the rigors of winter.
Or this account of Pagan Rome and Pagan Egypt:

"The Christmas tree, now so common among us, was equally common in Pagan Rome and Pagan Egypt. In Egypt it was the palm tree; in Rome it was the fir; the palm-tree denoting the Pagan Messiah, as Baal-Tamar, the fir referring to him as Baal-Berith. The mother of Adonis, the Sun-God and great mediatorial divinity, was mystically said to have been changed into a tree, and when in that state to have brought forth her divine son. If the mother was a tree, the son must have been recognized as ‘Man the Branch.’ And this entirely accounts for putting the Yule Log into the fire on Christmas Eve and the appearance of the Christmas tree the next morning. As Zero-Ashta, ‘The seed of the woman,’ ...he has to enter the fire on ‘Mother night,’ that he may be born the next day out of it, as the ‘Branch of God,’ or the Tree that brings divine gifts to men."

Later on in the 1500's

According to the first documented uses of a Christmas tree in Estonia, in 1441, 1442, and 1514, the Brotherhood of Blackheads erected a tree for the holidays in their brotherhood house in Reval (now Tallinn). At the last night of the celebrations leading up to the holidays, the tree was taken to the Town Hall Square where the members of the brotherhood danced around it.[9] In 1584, the pastor and chronicler Balthasar Russow wrote of an established tradition of setting up a decorated spruce at the market square where the young men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame”.

Oh, that sounds like fun. This year I'll dance around our Christmas tree, then set it on fire! That will make a great family memories video.... :)

Here is another account, linking it to a feast day of Adam and Eve:
The main prop of a popular medieval play about Adam and Eve was a fir tree hung with apples (paradise tree) representing the Garden of Eden. The Germans set up a paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it (symbolizing the host, the Christian sign of redemption); in a later tradition, the wafers were replaced by cookies of various shapes. Candles, too, were often added as the symbol of Christ. In the same room, during the Christmas season, was the Christmas pyramid, a triangular construction of wood, with shelves to hold Christmas figurines, decorated with evergreens, candles, and a star. By the 16th century, the Christmas pyramid and paradise tree had merged, becoming the Christmas tree.

I just stumbled across this verse that isn't typically part of our Christmas readings. It seems related to an early pagan festival with a decorated tree:
"This is what the LORD says: Do not learn the way of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens, although the nations are terrified by them, for the customs of the peoples are worthless.
Someone cuts down a tree from the forest; it is worked by the hands of a craftsman with a chisel. He decorates it with silver and gold. It is fastened with hammer and nails, so it won’t totter." Jeremiah 10:2-4 (HCSB)

I'll include a link here: http://www.cogwriter.com/christmas.htm to some interesting quotes from Tertullian (one of the leading 2nd/3rd century church writers). He seemed to be against participating in the pagan winter celebrations.

We do have a (fake) Christmas tree up in our home. I'm not at a place where I'm zealous about getting rid of Christmas trees. I mostly just think it's funny how we all have them without thinking about why we have them.

Kinda like many other traditions we have in life and church life.

If you have a Christmas tree in your home, do you know why you have it? I'd love to hear more stories.

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Anonymous said...

Because my wife wants one... end of story

Jonathan said...