Hear the word that Adonai speaks to you, house of Israel, Thus says Adonai:
“Do not learn the way of the nations
or be frightened by signs of the heavens—
though the nations are terrified by them.
The customs of the peoples are useless:
it is just a tree cut from the forest,
the work of the hands of a craftsman with a chisel.
They decorate it with silver and gold,
and fasten it with hammer and nails
so it won’t totter.
Like a scarecrow in a cucumber garden,
their idols cannot speak.
They must be carried
because they cannot walk!
Do not fear them
for they can do no harm
—nor do any good.”
~Jeremiah 10:1-5 (TLV)
What you just read there is often used as a reference to the modern practice of cutting down an evergreen tree, such as a spruce or a fir, fastening it to a base that will hold it up, and decorating it with ornaments—traditionally of silver and gold, but having evolved to a plethora of other varieties in modern times—as a centerpiece of the Christmas celebration. It seems pretty cut and dry, doesn’t it? What is described in Jeremiah 10 is the exact description of the Christmas tree.
I was once watching a well-known pastor on television who read this passage. He said: “Clearly this describes a Christmas tree.” He proceeded to talk about how every year they get letters asking about the passage. His reply to these inquiries was that they—the people who Jeremiah was addressing—worshiped the tree and “we” (referring to his Christian audience) worship “Jesus” [presumably with the tree].
When you turn to the crowds under the banner of “Hebrew Roots” you begin to find a different sentiment. Many in that branch of Christian faith, a particularly controversial group, so radically oppose the practice that they will stop at nothing to argue against Christmas practices and traditions. They too turn to the Jeremiah passage and use it as their proof text that Christmas trees are a pagan ritual practice, idolatry, and even going as far as saying that anyone who dares to have one in their home is certainly going to be cast into hell. Unless, of course, they repent of their “pagan ways” and stop having decorated trees in their home in December. Such dogma presents a real challenge for mixed-faith homes where one person has figured out the truth of keeping Torah and the other is still stuck in a traditional American Christian mindset and the errors that go along with it.
The major problem with all of this, however, is that there was no such a thing as a Christmas tree during the time of Jeremiah. Am I saying, then, that the practice is acceptable? Absolutely not! But I want to take you on a quick tour through actual history and see if we can come to a final conclusion about the practice of having decorated trees in your home during the winter holiday season.
The Origin Of The Christmas Tree
Contrary to a lot of the sensational and completely unproven claims that surround the tradition of the decorated trees used in winter holiday celebrations, saying that it traces back to Nimrod and ancient Babylon, the practice of the Christmas tree is actually relatively modern. While there are debates about who actually initiated the practice, it appears that the first Christmas tree was decorated in Britain at some point in the 1800’s. Some claims to this “honor” of having invented the Christmas tree tradition are Queen Charlotte, a German woman and the wife of George III, in December 1800 and Prince Albert in 1840. Either way, the practice as we know it today appears to only trace back to the early 1800’s, possibly less than 200 years ago.
It is speculated that the practice may trace back to a German tradition from the 1600’s. This may lend further credibility to the notion that George III’s German wife carried this tradition with her.
According to most traditions, it seems that the practice in Germany, possibly even dating back to Martin Luther—the famous reformer who is often credited as having pioneered Protestant Christianity—was established to represent the Tree of Life we read about in the early Genesis record. At that time it is said the trees were decorated with apples and perhaps other fruits, which were meant to highlight the fruit of the Tree of Life that it is commonly believed those who are accepted into God’s Eternal Kingdom will partake of for all eternity.
Most cultures in history have had some type of a Tree of Life imagery in their religious practice. Even today the Tree of Life emblem is used not just in Jewish and Christian traditions, but is even a primary symbol in Wicca, New Age, Satanism, and numerous other religions. Of course, in this case we have the biblical record to fall back on and we know this is a scenario where other religions essentially adopted a Bible practice. This seems oddly refreshing considering how much of modern Christian religion is established on the ideologies, beliefs, and practices of religions other than Judeo-Christian faith.
The point I am making here is that it is absolutely impossible historically to say that Jeremiah knowingly rebuked the Christmas tree tradition as idolatry. I say knowingly because I don’t want to dismiss this matter just yet. There is a little more to consider on this issue.
What Was Jeremiah Talking About?
If Jeremiah was not describing a Christmas tree, as so many today contend, then what was he describing? We have a clue on this in the book of Isaiah.
The craftsman encourages the smith,
who smooths with the hammer,
who strikes with the anvil,
saying of the soldering, “It’s good!”
as he fastens it with nails so that it will not totter.
~Isaiah 41:7 (TLV)
A carpenter stretches out a line;
he marks it with a pencil;
he shapes it with planes;
he marks it with a compass;
he shapes it like the figure of a man
—like the beauty of a man—
so that it may sit in a shrine.
He chops down cedars for himself,
or he takes a cypress or an oak.
He lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest.
He plants a pine and rain nourishes it.
Then it is something for a man to burn.
so he takes one of them and warms himself.
He also makes a fire to bake bread.
He also makes a god and worships it.
He makes an idol and bows before it.
~Isaiah 44:13-15 (TLV)
In these passages we find a similar language to what Jeremiah used in his description of how idols are made. Or, to come at it another way, Jeremiah was talking about people making idols in the images of gods they worshiped.
It was common practice in antiquity to take a piece of wood and carve it into the image of the idol you wanted to create. After the form was achieved, it would be overlaid with gold or silver, hammered into place. Finally the details were molded and shaped into the metal overlay.
What Jeremiah was describing wasn’t remotely close to the modern Christmas tree practice. So is that the end of the story? Case closed? Let’s continue on and see if there may be a little more to this story.
Are Christmas Trees Idols?
This is where things get a little tricky. To answer the question of whether or not Christmas trees are idolatrous we should start with Christmas itself.
Christmas is absolutely a secular-pagan holiday. If Christmas were actually a biblical celebration it would not be one of, if not the, most important festivals of the entire year for atheists, witches, New Age practitioners, and so many worldly people in modern society.
I don’t see anyone from any other religion, or those with no claimed religion, banging down the doors to celebrate Passover with The Feasts of Unleavened Bread and First Fruits, The Day of Pentecost, The Day of Shofars, The Day of Atonement, The Feast of Tabernacles, or the festivals of Purim and Hanukkah. Do you know why? These are in The Bible and all indications are that they were all celebrated by Yeshua, the Son of God and the Hebrew Messiah.
The unsaved are drawn to their own feasts, festivals, and holidays. Saved people are drawn to the Feasts and festivals actually found in The Bible, Yahweh’s Holy Mo’edim. Think about what I just told you there. One of the fastest ways to know whether or not someone is a part of God’s Kingdom is in what feasts and festivals they keep as holy—those from The Bible or those from the world.
The question of whether or not a Christmas tree is a form of idolatry begins with establishing that Christmas is a secular-pagan holiday. This really is not that difficult to do when you begin to look at the majority of historical and academic claims about how we arrived at the modern practice of celebrating Christmas.
I recommend reading through two articles I have put out in the past: The Christmas Debate and Academic Quotes Regarding Christmas And Easter. While the latter also covers another holiday that is rooted in paganism, the sources provided about Christmas are quite sufficient in establishing a solid argument against a Christian celebration of Christmas.
Some would argue that there are claims at least equal to those against it that suggest Christmas did not originate from pagan festivals like the Roman Saturnalia or the Norse-Germanic Yule. While a great majority of Christmas traditions undoubtedly originate from these established pagan festivals, the claim is that the celebration of the Nativity in late December or early January predates the taking of Roman paganism long associated with Christmas as practiced to this day. Here’s the thing about that: The waters are, at the very least, entirely too muddy at this point to draw a solid conclusion. Even if there are some academic claims that differ, there are still a host of claims supporting the idea that Christmas originates from paganism and, quite obviously, Christmas is nowhere to be found in The Bible.
The best argument from The Bible seems to suggest that the Nativity occurred on or around the biblical Feast of Tabernacles in the fall months. A closely valid alternate theory places the Nativity on or around Passover (though I find less evidence to support this and it is very close to the religious superstition that a prophet of God is born and dies on the same date of the calendar year). But placing the Nativity in late December or early January on a modern calendar appears to be a biblical impossibility, which I describe in more detail in a message titled WWJB: When Was Jesus Born?
So if a holiday is itself a form of paganism and idolatry, then any part of its celebration would also be such. A Christmas tree, then, would be a part of the overall idolatry and paganism long connected to the overall festival. Thus, the tree would also be an idol. This is made very clear in the classic carols Oh, Christmas Tree and Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree where participants in the Christmas festival sing and dance to their tree in a way anyone worshiping a god would sing and dance to it. Just read the lyrics!
But this is still not the end of the story. It still seems that the use of a tree, even a decorated tree, is not in and of itself idolatry. Often the labeling of a thing as idolatrous is a matter of when, where, and for what purpose it is being used. After all, small trees are a common part of décor for the celebration of the biblical Feast of Shavuot (The Day of Pentecost) and despite the commandment against making graven images to worship them the Ark of the Covenant had on it the graven images of cherubs. Additionally, while considered very controversial because of its similarity to the Christmas tree, some have chosen to use a decorated evergreen as part of the celebration of Hanukkah—calling it a Hanukkah bush.
So it still might not be as simple as making a blanket conclusion that having a decorated tree for the winter holiday season is idolatry, but what holiday you are using it for may dictate whether or not you are engaged in idolatry. And at that point it’s no longer the tree at all that is idolatry, but rather the holiday you are celebrating.
Life Or Death
I will plant in the wilderness
the cedar and the acacia tree, the myrtle and the olive tree.
I will set in the desert the cypress tree
and the pine together with the box tree—
so they may see and know,
consider and understand together,
that the hand of Adonai has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.
~Isaiah 41:19-20 (TLV)
This passage from Isaiah really provides for us what God’s will for trees is: LIFE! I want you to think about this.
As I noted a moment ago, small trees are among the décor used in celebrating the biblical Feast of Shavuot. This is a very important celebration as it commemorates for the covenant Believer in and Follower of Yeshua the day that God gave His Torah to Moses and also the day that God poured out His Spirit on all flesh as prophesied by the Prophet Joel. Small trees, growing in pots and full of life, are very different to the cutting down of a tree to make it a decoration only to discard of it when the holiday is over.
The Feasts and festivals found in The Bible are all about life and restoration. They are about what God gives to humanity. They celebrate His provision and protection.
In contrast, a celebration like Christmas is filled with death and depravity. Think very hard about what the Christmas celebration entails. It’s all about commercialism and humanism. Almost everyone is more concerned about: “I wonder what I am getting for Christmas”. Buying gifts for others is an obligation met with disdain. People are willing to strain their financial situation buying gifts for people they don’t even like all that much. And when you realize Yeshua almost certainly was not born in the middle of winter, these other things become everything that celebrating Christmas is all about.
The chaos begins the day after the American cultural holiday of Thanksgiving—which, unlike Christmas, was actually modeled after a biblical celebration (The Feast of Tabernacles)—on a day called Black Friday. This is the official beginning of the holiday shopping season where the entirety of all Christmas participants start looking for that perfect gift… again, for people they really don’t even like that much.
The centerpiece of all of this is the tree. Traditionally this is a tree that is cut down and after the holiday is over discarded. Animals that God created have their habitat stolen from them for this. The tree is essentially wasted because it is discarded and thrown in the trash. There is no good use of a natural resource. It’s all about destroying the Creation of God. And I will remind you that Revelation 11:18 warns that there will be a day when God will destroy those who senselessly destroy His Creation. Contrast this with the hanukkiah, the nine-branch candelabra resembling the menorah that serves as a centerpiece for Hanukkah, which actually does have a biblical basis to remind us of God—His being light (1 John 1:5) and Yeshua our Messiah being the light of the world (John 8:12).
Christians boasting their mantra “That’s not what it means to me!” will say that the evergreen tree represents eternal life (in “Jesus”). But how can something you killed represent eternal life? The only way an evergreen tree can represent eternal life in Messiah Yeshua is if it is left in the forest to fulfill the purpose for which God created it.
Once again, you can gain a relatively good idea if a person is truly saved or not based on whether or not they keep the celebrations of The Bible, those that celebrate life and God’s provision, or the holidays of the world that are filled with a spirit of death, depravity, and destruction—even if people try to put a “Christian” mask on them. People who are truly filled with the Holy Spirit of God do what is in The Bible, not what comes from the world. 1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Christmas is one of those “things in the world” the Apostle is talking about. It should be seriously considered and heavily weighed in your mind that if you love Christmas, perhaps the love of God is not in you.
Could Jeremiah Have Described A Christmas Tree?
It is very clear that Jeremiah, in his cultural context, was addressing a practice widespread in his lifetime. It is a practice that continues today in parts of the world, where people continue to make idol statues to worship their gods. But I still can’t escape one unique point, and you would do good to consider this as well.
While Jeremiah was certainly talking about something else, the language used in his Book, at least when translated into modern language, very clearly aligns with the description of a Christmas tree. I do not think this is something to be overlooked.
Do you believe The Bible is the eternal Word of God? Do you believe that all Scripture is God-breathed?
Why is it that the one of the hardest things in the world for Christians is to just do what The Bible says and shun those things not in The Bible? Especially those things, like Christmas, that have a long list of reputable academic and historical claims of being tied to OTHER RELIGIONS! Why do Christians want so desperately to be a part of the world their God has called them to come out of that they take literal paganism and rebrand it as “Christian”, despite the prohibition against doing this very thing in Deuteronomy 12? Why can’t people who claim to have accepted Yeshua (“Jesus”) as their Lord and Savior desire the ways of the One they claim to have accepted? Why do they even want things that are not biblically based and quite possibly a form of paganism?
Jeremiah described the act of carving idols as it was done in his time period. But it is almost as if God stepped in and divinely set this thing up so that in our time period it would describe perfectly a different form of idolatry as it is done today, when and where we live. I do not think this is a coincidence at all.
There are those who seem to think that historical records cannot spiritually reach beyond the time period they were written in. The Bible, however, is a living Book. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s Word is living and active. The Bible transcends the time periods it was written in. Without ignoring or writing off the cultural context of the original writings, we must never limit the power of Scripture to speak to us today. If there is a passage that matches the description of a Christmas tree and the practice is clearly connected to idolatry, then Jeremiah most certainly did describe a Christmas tree. While it would be out of context to say Jeremiah was addressing something that didn’t exist yet, it is not out of context to use a passage about idolatry to address a modern act of idolatry, especially when the description of the idol matches so well with the modern act being considered.
Remember, this man is listed among those called The Prophets. These people were seers. They were able to see into the future. No matter what Jeremiah’s words were meant to convey when he was alive and penned them, to his initial immediate audience, his words have become God’s Word and apply to us today where we are.
Jeremiah was addressing idolatry. It’s just that simple. It is not a challenge to show a reasonable argument that Christmas and its traditions, including the Christmas tree, are idolatrous in nature. This is something very much worth keeping in mind when people want to argue that there were no Christmas trees or anything like them in Jeremiah’s day. Should people be more responsible with how they present Jeremiah 10? Absolutely! But you cannot just write it off as sensationalism and irresponsible Bible interpretation when the passage is about idolatry and, in at least most cases, a Christmas tree specifically is a part of the overall idolatrous practice of celebrating Christmas.
~Blessings and Shalom~
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