[This is a repost, though slightly altered, of a post of similar name from a year ago. Since I don’t seem to have won the argument, I figured I’d try again.]
It’s a wonderful tradition in my house: putting on Christmas music, lugging the tote full of Christmas decorations up from the basement, making hot chocolate, getting the blasted tree straight enough, and placing the ornaments procured over many years onto the bare tree. Afterwards, color fills the house and the fresh evergreen scent welcomes all. If only we had a fireplace to complete the scene.
Churches often have their own Christmas (or, really, Advent) decorating traditions. I’ve happily participated in several, and I was sad not to this year. So, though I’ve been known to be a scrooge, know that I am not anti Christmas decorations. I am, however, firmly against Christmas trees in sanctuaries.
In many Christian churches, the symbols associated with worship are prominently displayed: communion table, baptismal font, pulpit/Bible, and often a cross. Each of these symbols has a deep meaning and clear connection to the faith.
Christmas trees, in the current-day United States at least, do not have a clear connection to the Christian faith. So why put them in the sanctuary with the other symbols?
Yes, I’ve heard many try to connect Christmas trees to Christian faith. Yes, there is plenty of history there — Norwegian, German, French, you name it — but it’s confused and from many divergent traditions. For me, the issue is less that there’s no historical precedence for cut evergreen trees sometimes having Christian significance, and more that any remnants of significance are lost today on the vast majority of Christians.
Christmas trees adorn Times Square, my local bank office, mall atriums, and the White House — 54 this year! That’s fine and dandy. They are lovely to look at with their pretty colors and shiny lights. But those trees, certainly, are not Christian symbols. So why insist on stretching to make Christian symbols out of something that’s almost exclusively understood on par with elves and red hats?
Many years ago, Christians co-opted the Roman December 25th celebration of the sun god to be the time they would celebrate Christ’s birth. (Or, maybe, as historian William Tighe has argued, it was the other way around.) In any case, I’m willing to give up the fight of putting Christ in or out of our culture’s secularization of Christmas. And I don’t want to try to reclaim the Christmas tree as a Christian symbol — too much work, too little payoff.
So, enjoy your tree at home. But, if you have any say in the matter, why not refrain from putting one up at church, or at least keeping it well away from the symbols of worship. Consider it an early Christmas present yours truly.
image by Graham Soult