So What About Christmas Trees?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience. For “the earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it.”

1 Corinthians 10:25-26

I want to linger for one more day on the passage in 1 Corinthians 10 that deals with buying meat from meat markets. But I don’t want to focus specifically on the issue of meat. In most of our world today, the meat we buy has not been offered to idols and has no pagan connotations. But, as a Christian, I have encountered a similar issue where the reasoning of 1 Corinthians 10 is instructive. I’m talking about Christmas trees, and whether Christians should use them in our celebrations of Christmas. (I expect that this will be, once again, an issue which readers of these Daily Reflections have differing opinions. That’s okay. I only ask that you communicate with me and with other believers in a way that’s consistent with who we are in Christ.)

I grew up in a Christian family that used Christmas trees in our celebration of Christmas. Some of my favorite memories as a boy are of exploring Christmas tree lots, smelling the pungent firs, getting lost in the forest of supple greenery, and helping my parents pick out “the perfect tree.” I loved decorating the tree and then watching it glow with the colored lights added by my dad. In my youth, Christmas trees were almost magic.

Ah, and there’s the problem, in the eyes of some Christians. Christmas trees are magic, really magic, in the sense of having spiritual meaning and power. I know several Christians, and have interacted online with many others, who believe that the pagan roots of tree decorating in winter holidays have permanently tainted the celebratory use of trees. Because pagans once used fir trees in their religious celebrations, fir tree usage is necessarily wrong. Jeremiah 10:3-4 is often cited as a proof text for this position. Thus, when we put up Christmas trees, we are dishonoring the Lord and messing around with demons, neither of which Christians ought to do. So, the argument goes, Christians should not use Christmas trees. Period.

Some historians would disagree with the pagan origins of Christian use of Christmas trees, seeing the practice as emerging from Christian roots. But, let’s assume for a moment that the other viewpoint is correct, and that fir trees were once used by pagans in their worship. Does this mean that these trees carry some permanent connotation or association or demonic connection? 1 Corinthians 10 would suggest not. Indeed, the trees I buy at Home Depot or Lowe’s haven’t even been offered to idols. At most, their centuries-old ancestors were used in pagan ceremonies. Yet the trees one can buy today are certainly part of the earth that belongs to the Lord. So, it seems to me, any pagan association from long ago is trumped by the principle of God’s ownership. Thus Christians are free to use Christmas trees, as long as we don’t give them pagan meanings. (One might wonder whether our use of Christmas trees doesn’t sometimes become the worship of money, but this is a different issue.)

However, 1 Corinthians 8 suggests that if a Christian’s conscience associates Christmas trees with paganism, then that person should not celebrate Christmas with a tree. Both those who (in Christian freedom) enjoy Christmas trees and those who do not because of consciences should respect each other's choices. When it comes to matters about which Christians may differ, we must not criticize people or divide the body of Christ.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Have you ever thought about the spiritual implications of Christmas trees and other traditional practices? Are there other applications of 1 Corinthians 10 that are relevant to your life?

PRAYER: Lord, you could have laid it all out clearly in Scripture. You could have given us the definitive list of rules to guide us every step of the way. But you have chosen to give us freedom, in so many cases, to discern what is best on the basis of biblical principles. Such is the case of the celebratory use of trees at Christmas. Thank you, dear Lord, for entrusting us with the responsibility of making good choices by applying your Word to our lives.

Help me, gracious God, to be wise in discerning how I can glorify you in the decisions of my life. Give me wisdom to know how best to live in the freedom of the Gospel. Give me charity in my relationships with those who come to different conclusions than mine.

All praise be to you, O God, for the goodness of your creation, and for creating us with the ability to use it and enjoy it. Amen.

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