Are Christmas Trees Condemned in the Bible?

Believe it or not, the idea that Christmas trees were condemned in the Bible is a very common criticism of this beloved tradition. But is there any merit to this claim?

None. This popular notion refers to a passage in Jeremiah 10:3-4.

“Thus says the LORD: Learn not the customs of the nations, and have no fear of the signs of the heavens, though the nations fear them. For the cult idols of the nations are nothing, wood cut from the forest, wrought by craftsmen with the adze, adorned with silver and gold. With nails and hammers they are fastened, that they may not totter.”

However, this passage refers to a custom in the days of Jeremiah for people to cut down trees and branches, fashion them into gods, then decorate them with ornaments. These would then be worshiped as gods.

It’s also true that the Romans decorated their temples with evergreen trees and ancient inhabitants of northern Europe cut evergreen trees and planted them in boxes inside their houses in wintertime, but the notion of the Christmas tree that adorns the homes of Christians today has very Catholic roots.

As Catholic Answers explains, the first Christmas tree is attributed to the great “apostle to the Germans,” St. Boniface (680-754). Sometimes called the greatest missionary since St. Paul, Boniface was a great bishop and tremendous evangelizer who was the first person to use a Christmas tree to celebrate the birth of Christ.

This event came about one Christmas Eve when he led a small group of missionaries to visit the inhabitants of the pagan village of Geismar. It was the dead of winter and the town’s inhabitants were gathered around a huge oak tree known as the “Thunder Oak” which was dedicated to the god, Thor.

“This annual event of worship centered on sacrificing a human, usually a small child, to the pagan god,” Catholic Answers explains. “Boniface desired to convert the village by destroying the Thunder Oak, which the pagans had previously boasted the God of Boniface could not destroy, so he gathered a few companions and journeyed to Geismar.”

His fellow missionaries were afraid that the Germans might kill them but Boniface steadied their nerves. When they reached the village, he told his shivering companions: “Here is the Thunder Oak; and here the cross of Christ shall break the hammer of the false god Thor.”

As it turned out, they had arrived at the time of sacrifice but their presence interrupted the ritual. Boniface promptly grabbed an axe and chopped down the oak tree, leaving the town’s inhabitants astounded. He then began to preach the gospel and used a little fir tree that was standing behind the fallen oak as a tool of evangelization.

“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.”

The people were so awed by the event, and certainly with the supernatural courage of the holy bishop, that they were converted and were baptized.

Awed by the destruction of the oak tree and Boniface’s preaching, the Germans were baptized.

The Catholic tradition of using an evergreen tree to celebrate the birth of Jesus gradually spread throughout Germany. According to History.com, by the 16th century, devout German Christians began to bring trees into their home and decorate them.

The tradition did not catch on in America right away because the Puritans regarded the concept as pagan. However, this all changed with the very popular Queen Victoria and Prince Albert appeared in a sketch in the Illustrated London News in 1846 standing around a decorated Christmas tree with their children. Being so popular with their subjects, the custom became immediately fashionable and before long, Christmas trees were sprouting up across Europe and, eventually, the United States.

As Catholic Answers concludes: “Although there are many stories, legends, and myths surrounding the founding of the Christmas tree, including the claim that the custom originated with Martin Luther, there is only one story rooted in a real person and a real event: Boniface, converter of the Germans, who destroyed Thor’s mighty oak.”

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