It is that time of year again. Inevitably, some well-intentioned Christians argue that putting up a Christmas tree is a pagan practice, and so we should avoid standing them up with decorations in our homes, out of obedience to Scripture.
As someone who has kept ornaments I made back in kindergarten, if I had heard this, back when I was a kid, it might have soured me a bit on Christianity. But in the age of social media, the debate over Christmas’ supposed pagan origins, and that of the Christmas tree in particular, seems never ending. A favorite Bible “prooftext” given for this view is from the King James Version of Jeremiah:
Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not (Jeremiah 10:2-4 KJV).
Well. Well… I guess I should toss that adorable tree into the fire, with that sentimental “Christmas mouse” ornament I once made. Right?
The irony of this mentality is that it is a variation of an argument some atheists use to discredit Christianity, that Christmas was merely an invention of “the church,” political propaganda used to create a new form of paganism, a “copy cat” faith borrowed from the ancient Mithra cult, with a Jewish veneer pasted over it, squashing other forms of paganism, in order to unite the Roman empire.
I always find it bizarre when both certain fundamentalist-type Christians, as well as certain hyper-atheists, manage to gang up together to fight against some Christian practice that was originally designed to point us towards Jesus. But is there a better way to understand this passage of Jeremiah, that more accurately reflects the original context of the Biblical author? Continue reading