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Explaining Christmas Traditions: Christmas Trees

Have you ever put up your Christmas tree and wondered, “Who in the world came up with the idea of putting a tree in your house to celebrate the birth of Jesus?” Or maybe you see all the pine needles your tree (real or fake!) is shedding and ask, “Why in the world is it a pine tree?” There are a few different stories or claims for the origins of the Christmas tree, but I will focus on one of the most popular that comes from northern Germany that explains the origins of the Christmas tree tradition.

Boniface vs. Thor

An evangelist named Boniface went to Northern Germany in the 8th century and discovered that the people associated certain trees with certain gods. In particular, they associated a specific oak tree with the god Thor, and the people would perform sacrifices at this tree (often of children). Boniface was distraught both by the false worship and the destruction of innocent lives, so as a way to show people that Thor had no power and was not real, Boniface cut down this tree and, to the surprise of the people, nothing happened to him. Shortly thereafter, he pointed to a small fir tree and told them that this would replace the oak tree as their new symbol. He noted how it was ever-green, so it symbolizes endless life, and it points upward to heaven to remind us of God. Since people had been using greenery to decorate their homes, they began to cut down these trees and carried them into their homes to remember Jesus, with this tree being used to celebrate the birth of Jesus. This tradition spread throughout Germany, and as Europeans came to America, it spread to America as well.

What God Are We Worshiping?

Therefore, this tree can be a symbol and reminder to us of the everlasting life we receive in Christ, as well as that Jesus is the only true God. You might not be tempted to worship Thor, but we are often tempted to worship other idols (for more on those idols we worship, see this recent post). In fact, Christmas can be a time that feeds the gods of pleasure -- family, money, possessions, and countless others. May we cut down those gods as we put up our Christmas trees this year, looking upward to heaven and knowing that we have eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

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