While the economy may be floundering, business owners investing in the production of Christmas trees are doing well. Over 100,000 people are employed part-time or full-time in the industry. In 2011, it brought in an estimated $3.4 billion in the United States alone.
While this is only a small portion of the nearly $65 billion spent on Christmas celebrations, it still comprises a core part of people’s mid-winter celebrations.
Yet few people ever stop to think about the correlation between a tree and the supposed birth of Christ or the origins of this tradition.
The National Christmas Tree Association (ncta) dates the history of the Christmas tree tradition back to a.d. 1510 when the first written record of a decorated Christmas tree mentions men of the local merchants’ guild in Riga, Latvia, decorating a tree with artificial roses, dancing around it in the marketplace and then setting fire to it.
In 1777, the tradition of the Christmas tree was brought to colonial America by Hessian troops fighting for Britain in the Revolutionary War. It wasn’t until nearly a century later, in 1856, that the 14th president of the United States, Franklin Pierce, brought the first tree into the White House.
But is the decorated Christmas tree a modern phenomenon? The answer may astound you.
Alexander Hislop wrote in his book The Two Babylons, “The Christmas tree, now so common among us, was equally common in pagan Rome and pagan Egypt. In Egypt that tree was the palm-tree; in Rome it was the fir.” So this billion-dollar business boasts a very long legacy.
The ncta fails to acknowledge a written record that precedes 1510 by about two millennia.
You may be surprised, but the Bible indeed mentions the use of what we now refer to as Christmas trees. It does so in the writings of the Prophet Jeremiah, recorded some 600 years before Christ’s physical birth.
Jeremiah did not write about a tree in relation to the birth of the coming Savior of mankind. Far from it.
Note what God recorded by the hand of this prophet: “Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 10:1). God wants us to pay close attention to this. He demands us to hear His perspective on this custom.
“Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go” (verses 2-5).
God does not mince any words here. He outright condemns these “doctrines of vanities” (verse 8) and states that they show a lack of fear and reverence for Him as the “King of nations” (verse 7). But why? And where did these ways of the heathen originate?
Organized Rebellion Against God
During the time of the Flood, God intervened to bring Satan’s deceptive workings to a screeching halt. Man had become so perverted and evil that God was prepared to start all over (Genesis 6:5-7). Yet soon after the Flood, Satan got busy and set up another pagan system.
The four centuries following the Flood were perhaps the most crucial in human history. They were the scene of a tremendous struggle for the control of mankind.
Covered in just the briefest detail in the Bible, 100 years after the Flood, the Mesopotamian valley had become overpopulated as Noah’s descendants fulfilled God’s command to multiply and to replenish the Earth (Genesis 9:1). Jewish historian Josephus recorded in Antiquities of the Jews: “God also commanded them to send colonies abroad, for the thorough peopling of the Earth—that they might not raise seditions among themselves, but might cultivate a great part of the Earth, and enjoy its fruits after a plentiful manner: but they were so ill instructed that they did not obey God.”
Note that somebody had been teaching these people wrong principles and customs, which they carried into all corners of the Earth.
In Genesis 10:8-9, Nimrod is described as “a mighty one.” The Hebrew indicates he had become a tyrant, or despot. He was known everywhere for his “might.” The name Nimrod in Hebrew is derived from marad, meaning “he rebelled.” Although later he assumed many different names, the one that matters to God is the one that describes him best: “he rebelled.”
Nimrod, Ham’s grandson, founded the Babylonian system that has gripped the world ever since. He laid the foundation of a system of organized competition. He ruled based on the competitive and profit-making economic system. Nimrod built the tower of Babel, the original Babylon, ancient Nineveh, and many other cities, and organized this world’s first kingdom—all in defiance of God.
Nimrod copied, propagated and expanded on the society and customs that had been in existence before the Flood, a system God calls the “way of Cain” (Jude 11)—a way that had led to total destruction.
From many ancient writings, much is learned of this man who started the great organized apostasy from God that has dominated this world until now. Nimrod was so evil, it is said he married his own mother, whose name was Semiramis.
Semiramis, through her schemings, had become known as the Babylonian “queen of heaven.” That made Nimrod the “divine son of heaven.” Together they became a perverted mother-son tandem.
Dr. C. Paul Meredith showed how “[w]ith the civil power he wielded, Nimrod set himself up as the priest of the things worshiped by the people, to obtain a stronger hold on them and gradually put himself in place of the true God” (Satan’s Great Deception).
As the self-appointed high priest of the sun god Merodach—also known as Molech or Baal—Nimrod oversaw some atrocious acts such as the purification of infants by sacrificing them in fire. This repulsed God greatly (e.g. Leviticus 18:21; Jeremiah 32:35; Ezekiel 20:31) and led to the death of Nimrod.
Nimrod’s Untimely Death
The Bible is silent on how Nimrod died, but ancient tradition says he came to a violent end. This is corroborated by the account of Osiris’s violent death, which became the central theme of Egypt’s idolatry worship.
Tradition suggests that Nimrod may have been executed by Shem, son of Noah, who was deeply opposed to Nimrod’s rebellion against God. Shem was the son who walked most closely in the ways of God that his father taught him.
Nimrod’s own violence had to be paid for with his life (Genesis 9:6), and the tradition continues that Nimrod’s body was cut in pieces, burned and then sent to various families of the Earth as a warning from God.
Nimrod was cut down, like a tree is felled by the ax.
Nimrod’s death was a shock to his followers. They couldn’t understand how or why the high priest of the sun god, this divine son of heaven, could be allowed to die. So many subjects lost faith in their hero that Nimrod’s religious system started to crumble.
The Sun God Returns
After Nimrod’s death, Semiramis became ruler of her son’s kingdom. Used by Satan, she spread the evil doctrine of the survival of Nimrod as a spirit being. She promoted a mystery religion and claimed that Nimrod now was the sun god.
The Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course stated, “While Nimrod was alive, he put himself in the place of God by his dictatorial rule. And when he died, his admirers continued to worship him as a divine hero! They called him ‘Baal,’ a name found later throughout the Old Testament. ‘Baal’ means ‘master’ or ‘lord.’ It was only natural that Nimrod should claim that name. He put himself in the very place of the true Lord or Master of the entire universe. But ‘Baal’ was not Nimrod’s only other name. He had many names. In Babylonia he was known as ‘Tammuz.’ In Syria and Greece, ‘Adonis’—which also meant ‘lord.’ In Egypt he was the god ‘Osiris,’ and was identified in ‘mystery’ symbolism as the bull!”
Semiramis also became known by various names. Encyclopedia Britannica identifies her as “connected with the doves of Ishtar or Astarte …. The irresistible charms of Semiramis, her sexual excesses and other features of the legend, all bear out the view that she is primarily a form of Astarte, and so fittingly conceived as the great queen of Assyria.”
Lange’s Commentary states that “Ashtaroth … corresponds to Hera, the Star-queen. Ashtoreth means ‘the star.’ … Moon and stars, the luminaries of the night sky, are blended in Ashtaroth. She represents the collective host of heaven.”
Semiramis was worshiped as the queen of heaven, or the great mother of god. She committed fornication with the leading men at that time, coaxing them into accepting this mystery religion that took the place of the true worship of God. She even claimed that one of her illegitimate sons, Tammuz, was brought into being by a magic beam of light from the great sun god. Claiming the baby to be a reborn Nimrod, the promised seed of Genesis 3:15, Semiramis originated the story that a full-grown evergreen tree sprang overnight from a dead tree stump, which symbolized the springing forth unto new life of the dead Nimrod. On each anniversary of his birth, Semiramis claimed, Nimrod would visit the evergreen tree and leave gifts upon it.
The new evergreen tree symbolized that Nimrod had come to life again in Tammuz. That is the real origin of Santa Claus and the Christmas tree. It is why Jeremiah knew of the Christmas tree six centuries before Jesus Christ was even born.
But Is It Really Idolatry?
In at least 10 biblical references, the green tree is associated with idolatry and false worship (e.g. 1 Kings 14:23). Since all trees are green at least part of the year, the explicit mention of “green” refers to species that are green year-round: evergreens.
In the days of Jeremiah, people were making an idol out of the tree. The word workman in Jeremiah 10:3 does not just describe a lumberjack, but a fashioner of idols. The Hebrew word means a craftsman, engraver or artificer—in other words, a sculptor of idols. The same word in Isaiah 40:19-20 and Hosea 8:4-6 describes the fabricator of graven images.
The word ax used in Jeremiah 10:3 refers specifically to a carving tool. Can there be any doubt that God is clearly condemning the use and decoration of an evergreen tree to describe His disgust with man’s own interpretation of the Second Commandment? (Exodus 20:4-6). God says those who do disregard His commands show they hate Him. Could anything be plainer? God condemns pagan, heathen practices—including the Christmas tree.
Jeremiah also talked of this tree in relation to the “signs of heaven,” which refers to these self-exalted deities of the sun god, Baal, and the queen of heaven, Astarte.
Many know Christmas is pagan to the core but still refuse to give it up. Some will answer that it means so much to the children and that it brings families together. Does it really? Have lies, deceit and paganism ever accomplished such things? Others will say, But I don’t worship the Christmas tree. It is not an idol to me. Never does God say that idols are only carved images toward which ignorant religious savages pray. “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey …” (Romans 6:16).
If you see how God condemns Christmas, yet you continue keeping it, the object of your devotion is Christmas—not God. For many people, Christmas is such an idol.
Ask yourself, “What is the source of my religion?” Religion is the obedience, service and adoration rendered to the object of one’s worship—a system of faith and devotion to a superior authority—the profession, practice and observance of whatsoever belief and practice is required by that superior authority.
Can you observe pagan customs to honor Jesus Christ? Here is God’s frank answer: “Beware of letting yourselves be beguiled into copying them, … beware of resorting to their gods, asking yourselves, ‘How did these nations worship their gods?—that I may do the same.’ You must not worship the Eternal your God thus; for they offered their gods all that is abominable and hateful to the Eternal, burning even their sons and daughters to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:30-31; Moffatt translation).
Christ was not born on, or anywhere near, December 25! The Bible nowhere commands keeping Christ’s birthday. The New Testament Church never kept it. There is no record of Jesus Christ or His apostles cutting down a tree to deck it with ornaments.
Long before the time of Christ, pagan Romans celebrated Brumalia, or the rebirth of the sun, after the winter solstice. It was a festival originally celebrated with the same customs on the birthday of their god—the god of the sun. It was pure idolatry.
The symbols involved in the Brumalia celebrations stood for a wide variety of pagan superstitions involving the source of life, or fertility. They used a little tree, which was supposed to have grown up overnight out of an old dead log. The tree is called a Christmas tree today; the log is named “yule.” They used round orbs and eggs, on which they painted snakes and other designs. This was long before the time of tinsel and glass. The gilded nuts and orbs symbolized the sun, reminding the pagans of their believed source of life. They had wreaths of holly because it was one of the rare plants still containing little round berries in mid-winter, even in the snowy north. They used mistletoe because of a pagan superstition involving its qualities of aphrodisia (a reason why people still carry on the pagan superstition of kissing under the mistletoe).
Not until over 300 years after Christ’s death did pagan Romans force the religious authorities to accept their festive Saturnalia and stamp Christ’s name on it.
Practice of Ignorant Ancients?
Although this passage in Jeremiah 10 pictures the carved idols of Jeremiah’s time, they are also an accurate description of the Christmas tree we are familiar with today. The practice Jeremiah wrote about was a custom (verse 3) and was associated with “the signs of heaven” (verse 2)—just as Christmas today is a custom and is associated with the winter solstice. People do not normally make this association with the winter solstice, but that does not change its pagan origin.
Even though these scriptures no doubt had an application to the customs practiced over 2,500 years ago, we must keep in mind that the book of Jeremiah is primarily prophetic. (For full proof of this, request Jeremiah and the Greatest Vision in the Bible.) Just as with other prophecies, this was written for our time.
God inspired a description referring to the common practices and customs of our modern world.
Note how the cutting down and setting up of a tree is termed “the way of the heathen” by God Himself (verse 3). We are commanded not to learn or follow that way (verse 2). The entire passage in Jeremiah 10 clearly tells us that using a tree in this manner is a form of idolatry.
Will you support the $3 billion industry that dishonors God and breaks His commandment by erecting an evergreen tree and decking it with gold and silver this year?
While you may boost the economy, you also boost the wrath of God, who will bring our economy to utter collapse. God’s plagues are about to fall on this world for its many sins—including the worship of pagan gods and the use of pagan symbols and customs that God condemns and hates.
You can come out of Babylon, however, and be spared the plagues it will receive (Revelation 18:4). How? By truly honoring God through your deep involvement in His Work of warning the world of what lies ahead.