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Post by Sonshine on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:27 am

I've had Christian brothers and sister get on to me about my love of Christmas trees, telling me they have pagan origins. It's never really bothered me though, so I continued to put on a tree every year. Today I found some interesting information on the history of Christmas trees I want to share with you. I put it in the debate section because I figure some will still think it's wrong. Smile

Courtesy of

Though some scholars have attributed the origin of the Christmas tree to pagan celebrations, it is
more likely that the modern Christmas tree has its roots in Christian practices. No one will
disagree that pagans have long “worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator”
(Romans 1:25) . . . yes, even trees. Lighted trees were certainly used in various pagan religious
celebrations throughout history, but there is no evidence of any direct link between the pagan rituals
and the Christmas tree.
The Origin of the Christmas Tree
Among the many accounts claiming to explain the origin of the Christmas tree, the three most
popular are from Germany — making it the likeliest place of origin. The stories span from the 8th
century to the 16th century; all three are rooted in historical fact and may be connected to one
(1) St. Boniface (672 – 754 AD), 8th Century:1
St. Boniface (birth name Winfried) was a missionary to some of the remotest tribes of Germany.
He is probably best known for what is called the “Felling of Thor’s Oak.” It is said that upon entering
a town in northern Hesse, Boniface learned that the people worshiped the god Thor. They believed
that Thor resided in a great oak tree among them. Boniface determined that if he wanted to earn an
audience with the people, he would have to confront Thor. He announced before the people that he
was going to cut down the oak, and he openly challenged Thor to strike him down. Miraculously, as
Boniface began to chop the oak, a mighty wind blew and hurled the tree to the ground. Tradition
holds that a fir tree was growing in the roots of the oak, and Boniface claimed the tree as a symbol
of Christ. Needless to say, the people stood in awe and readily accepted Boniface’s message about
the one true God.
Author Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) offers a dramatic retelling of the story of St. Boniface in
his historical fiction account, The First Christmas Tree. See p. 407.
(2) The Paradise Plays, 15th Century:2
Another possible source of the Christmas tree comes from medieval religious plays in Germany.
Among the most popular of these plays was the “Paradise” play. It started with the creation of man,
acted out the first sin, and showed Adam and Eve being expelled from Paradise (the Garden of
Eden). It closed with the promise of a coming Savior, which made the play a particular favorite
during the Christmas season. In the play, the Garden of Eden was most often represented by a fir tree
hung with apples and surrounded by candles.
At one point, religious plays were suppressed in Germany, and the popular symbol of the
Paradise play made its way into the homes of Christians. By the 15thcentury, Christians started to
SYMBOLS, Images of Christmas
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decorate their trees not only with apples (the symbol of sin and the need for a Savior) but with small
white wafers (the symbol of Christ’s body, the Savior). These wafers were later replaced by little
pieces of pastry cut in the shape of stars, angels, bells, etc.
The connection between the Garden of Eden and Christmas is profound. The first sin in the
Garden of Eden was eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and wanting to be like
God. How did God address this sin? God became a man that we might be saved. And trees play a
significant role in the entirety of the Christian story, for the temptation that brought sin into the
world hung on a tree and the act that resulted in salvation from sin (Christ on the cross) hung on a
tree. Furthermore, once sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, and all mankind,
were no longer permitted to eat of the tree of life. However, in eternity, Christ’s work on the cross
will give us “the right to eat from the tree of life” once again (Revelation 2:7).
For about 200 years, the use of the “Paradise Tree” during the Christmas season was limited to
people living along the Rhine in Germany. With time, the tradition spread throughout Europe and
beyond. German immigrants to Pennsylvania likely brought the practice to America.
(3) Martin Luther, (1483-1546 AD), 16th Century:
A third tradition about the origin of the Christmas tree attributes it to Martin Luther, the leader
of the Reformation. Some say that on Christmas Eve, Luther was walking through the woods near
his home. He was struck by the beauty of how the snow shimmered in the moonlight on the branches
of the trees. In an effort to re-create the magnificent sight for his family, he cut down the tree, placed
it in his home, and decorated it with candles.
Though Christmas trees may have already existed in homes throughout Germany at the time of
Luther, it is possible that he did in fact conceive the idea of adding candles to their branches. He may
have been erroneously credited with beginning the tradition of the Christmas tree itself simply
because his followers were the ones to spread the custom around Europe as they fled persecution in
Oldest Records:
The two oldest recorded references to Christmas trees come from the Alsace region (in modern
day France, but previously populated by Germans). The first record is a forest ordinance from
Ammerschweier dated in 1561; it states that no person “shall have for Christmas more than one bush
of more than eight shoes’ length.”3 The second record is in a diary written in 1605; it states: “At
Christmas time in Strassburg they set up fir trees in the rooms, and they hang on them roses cut
of-many colored paper, apples, wafers, gilt [something the color of gold], sugar.”4
The first record of candles on Christmas trees is from a Silesian duchess in 1611.5 The Silesian
region includes parts of modern day Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany. Interestingly, the
Christmas Trees
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Reformation turned this region almost entirely Protestant,6 which strengthens the case for German
influence at the time.
Though there may be disagreement on when the tradition of Christmas trees first started, the
case is certainly strong for both a German and a Christian origin. As might be expected, the popular
carol “O Christmas Tree” (“O Tannenbaum” in German) also had its beginning in Germany.
Christmas Trees in America
It appears that the custom of Christmas trees was first introduced into America during the Revolutionary
War (1775-1783) by Hessian troops who were homesick for Germany. By the early 1800s,
German immigrants had brought the tradition to Pennsylvania. However, the practice did not become
widespread until the mid-1800s when a picture of Queen Victoria’s tree appeared in Godey’s Lady’s
Book, an American publication considered to be the “fashionable women’s magazine” of the day.7
Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert of Germany, made a practice of setting up an enormous
and beautifully decorated tree during the Christmas season. The royal couple has since been
credited with popularizing the custom of Christmas trees in both England and America.
By 1889, President Benjamin Harrison set up the first recorded White House Christmas tree, and
in 1929, First Lady Hoover began the as yet unbroken custom of decorating an “official” White
House tree.8
The Decorations of Christmas Trees
Note that early Christmas trees “were not of a uniform appearance. There were no mass-produced
balls, lights, or tinsel, which left tree decorators to create their own imaginative displays.”9 By the
late 19thcentury, however, such ornaments became available. Since then, bulbs and electric lights
have even become a symbol of Christmas in their own right. See pp. 105-106 for more on electric
Interestingly, God compares himself to a tree in the Bible. He says, “I am like a green pine tree;
your fruitfulness comes from me” (Hosea 14:8b). This is a relevant analogy to consider during the
Christmas season. The fruitful lives of Christians can serve as the “ornaments” that draw others to
admire the “tree” – God himself!
1 Encyclopedia Britannica. “St. Boniface.” Retrieved August 8, 2008 from Encyclopedia Britannica Online:
2 Weiser, Francis X. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., 1958, p.
3 Hatch, Jane M. The American Book of Days. H.W. Wilson Company, 1978, p. 1145.
4 Hatch, Jane M., p. 1145
SYMBOLS, Images of Christmas
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5 Encyclopedia Britannica. “Christmas.” Retrieved August 8, 2008 from Encyclopedia Britannica Online:
6 Encyclopedia Britannica. “Silesia.” Retrieved August 8, 2008 from Encyclopedia Britannica Online: http://
7 Swartz Jr., B.K. The Origin of American Christmas Myth and Customs. Retrieved July 20, 2008 from Ball
State University:
8 The White House Historical Association. “White House Christmas Tree Themes.” Retrieved July 20, 2008
from The White House Historical Association:
9 Myers, Robert J. Celebrations, The Complete Book of American Holidays. Doubleday and Company Inc,
1972, p. 333.

He who cultivates his land will have plenty of food,
but from idle pursuits a man has his fill of poverty
Proverbs 28:19[b]

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