On Symbols and Traditions — Christmas Trees, Crosses and Meat Sacrificed to Idols, oh my!

Some of my favorite memories from my childhood revolve around a Christmas tree. Though my family life was less than stellar, every year when the holiday approached, my very fractured family would gather together under a temporary flag of truce.  We would spend hours and go to elaborate lengths to bring a gigantic tree into our living room and decorate it with blinking lights, ornaments and loads of tinsel (for the anti-blinkers and anti-tinselites – don’t judge me, its sparkly and blinky). I would then spend hours just staring at it and the angels and Jesus flavored ornaments on it. The vague idea of peace on earth always filled me with peace and hope at least for short time in a life that was definitely not peaceful.

When I came to Christ many years later, because Jesus broke through with me through examining His Word, I was determined to test everything against the Scripture to see if it should stay or go – even the Christmas tree.  I thought it was as simple as making a list with two columns, good and bad and whatever was on the bad side went and whatever made it to the good side stayed. Easy peasy, right?  Well, kind of.

After studying the Scripture, I found that there truly were things that were that simple — Bible good, porn bad, Church good, false gods bad, but that there was a whole bunch of things in the Christian life that were not really bad or good in themselves.   It was just what we do with them and how they affect OUR relationship, not anyone else’s, with the Lord that mattered.

Even some of the most cherished ingrained traditions in the Christian world, like Christmas trees and the Crosses that many people wear or we hang in our churches are neither bad nor good on their own – they have no power other than what we give them.

Take the Christmas Tree for example. Though I had great sentimental attachment to them, there is nothing in the Bible that either requires us or forbids us to have one in our homes at Christmas time. There is frankly nothing in the Bible that requires us to celebrate the Lords’ birth on December 25th — both are traditions that have developed over the course of man’s following Jesus. Traditions on their own are neither bad nor good.

The tradition of the tree is believed to have developed in Germany in the 16th Century and then it was brought to America by German immigrants. It then took off and became intimately associated with Christmas.

From the beginning there has been symbolism that is attached to the Christmas tree, from the lights being symbolic of Jesus as the Light of the World to the evergreen being symbolic of Jesus’ Eternal nature and those are great.  Perhaps I am just a simple caveman though because the only symbolism that ultimately matters to me is Jesus. When I see a Christmas tree, I think of Jesus’ birth and celebration of the Incarnation. It is not a symbol of anything other than Jesus’ birth set out in Luke 2 and that is enough for me.  It is like a sparkly version of a ribbon wrapped around your finger to remind you of some important appointment – it is just there to trigger the association.  Tree leads directly to thoughts about Jesus.  Even if it was once something else, it has become a symbol of Jesus.  I understand that it is just a symbol — I am clearly not worshipping a tree.

Those who do not like Christmas trees often say that the tradition has a pagan origin and that Jeremiah 10:1-6 prohibits the putting up of a Christmas tree in your house. While I disagree with both claims, the Jeremiah verses are describing making an idol and worshipping it (it is an amusing passage btw — God saying that worshipping something you made yourself is ridiculous) and the evidence about paganism is unconvincing, what I believe about it should not matter for them. Freedom in Christ, applied equally is an awesome thing.

Paul covers this in Romans 14:

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord;[a] and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.

Did we catch that? God gives us freedom in these gray areas to come to our own conclusions, possibly disagree and still worship Him together. The ultimate point of anything we do is expressed in 1 Corinthians 10 —

31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

I don’t wear crosses or jewelry in general, but if you feel that it is something that brings glory to God then Praise Jesus and have at it. I love Contemporary Christian music, you may like hymns- Praise Jesus and sing in your own way to the Lord. It is a wonderful freedom that when embraced by the Body of Christ leads to diversity across the Church.  We can agree on the non-essentials of the faith and still remain a loving family – my wife loves olives and I think they are vile yet I still love her dearly.

So the inevitable question then arises …what if I am wrong on my conclusion about a gray area issue?  What if I do something that I am not supposed to do?  Shouldn’t there be one list that we can all follow to make sure we are right?

It is a great question as we want to do what is best, not just what is comfortable for us.

My questions in response — Do we trust that the Holy Spirit really lives in us and directs our path in this life? Do we trust God’s Word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path? Do we trust our Savior to lead us?

If we do and we are doing something that is comfortable but not profitable then we can trust that God through His Spirit or His Word will tell us as we continue to walk with Him. He is the author and finisher of our faith after all, Hebrews 12:2, not us.  If you notice, working out these issues one by one without a list forces us to ask Jesus to answer for us.

So whatever you do about Christmas or trees or crosses, ask Jesus what to do first, listen to the answer and then do it with all your heart to the glory of God.

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2 thoughts on “On Symbols and Traditions — Christmas Trees, Crosses and Meat Sacrificed to Idols, oh my!
  1. Thanks, Tom. After I first accepted Christ, I got a hold of some fundamentalist literature that took some bold stands against Christmas, Easter, etc., and I went that way for a couple of years. Nowadays, while I’m surely not a fan of these religious-secular holidays, I don’t get upset about them, and I use them as opportunities to share Christ with my family.

    1. Hi Tom – I don’t particularly like what the society has done with Christmas and Easter but if they are about worshipping Jesus for us than I think ultimately its immaterial what society is doing. Everything is God’s after all. I get people who choose not to celebrate them though.

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