A Christmas Tree's Surprising Origins
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and once again, the debate about having a Christmas tree raises its head and engulfs social media feeds. One camp says that the Christmas tree is a pagan symbol, referencing Jeremiah 10’s condemnation about a silver and gold decorated tree used as an idol which they claim, indicts our modern use of tinsel and gold-colored ornaments. The other camp, claims Christian liberty and flaunts their oversized and overly decorated fir trees to the chagrin of the naysayers. Still, a third, just wishes everyone would just stop bickering and have a Merry Christmas.
Now I realize I have written about the Christmas tree debate once before and just as a refresher, there is no correlation between the tree in Jeremiah 10 to the trees that we are accustomed to seeing in homes during this holiday season.
Yet, what may surprise you is the tradition of the Christmas tree originates from Christian missions.
In the 8th century, an English monk and missionary named Boniface was commissioned to go evangelize, baptize and plant churches in the areas of the Netherlands and Germany. In this point of history, this region was thoroughly pagan, filled with numerous tribes and certainly not friendly to a foreign deity and its followers. Yet, through Boniface’s courage, clear and bold proclamation of the gospel and an aptitude toward organization, churches began to establish and many were brought to Christ.
However, in one village the gospel was met with some strong resistance and it all centered around a large oak tree. The “Thunder Oak” is what they called it in dedication to the Norse god Thor and every year, they would sacrifice a young child to appease the god of Thunder. How many children lost their lives underneath the shade of that oak tree, no one knows but the day of sacrificing innocent children was about to come to an end.
As tradition tells us, the village had gathered around the tree as they had done for years, offering their worship to their pagan god when suddenly it was interrupted by Boniface, wielding an ax.
Before the swing of the ax, Boniface turns to the stunned crowd and says, “Here is the Thunder Oak, and here the cross of Christ shall break the hammer of the false god Thor.”
And with that, the oak was cut down.
What astounded the village was that the god of Thunder was silent. No response from their pagan deity. No dark clouds swirling overhead, no claps of thunder. No striking the missionary dead by lightning for his actions.
However, the one that wasn’t silent was Boniface. Stepping onto the stump of the fallen tree, he began to preach, heralding the good news of the gospel and about the true and living God who has come to save people.
And after his sermon, he turns and extends his hand to a small fir tree adjacent to him and says,
“This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace… It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.”
It is said, the village, feeling the conviction of their idolatry and awakened to the truth of the gospel by Boniface’s faithfulness, came to know Jesus and many were baptized in his name.
It is also said, that these new German Christians began the tradition of commemorating the gospel’s triumph by bringing fir trees into their home and practicing generosity to one another as a way of reminding them of how God was so generous to give His Son to save the world.
I hope after reading this, that you won’t look at Christmas trees the same again. When you pass by a decorated Christmas tree, I hope you will recall the story of Boniface and how the gospel prevailed over the hearts of the German people. I also hope that love and generosity will fill your heart as it did theirs and that the true meaning of Christmas remains in focus.