by Matt Slick
Yes, Christians are free to use the Christmas tree and mistletoe even though the traditions regarding them are of pagan origin. Before I get into why the Christian is free to use them during the time of Christmas, I would like to discuss their origin and why they were used in the first place in the Christian context.
One of the symbols of life found in the celebration of Saturnalia was the use of evergreens. These plants which stayed green all year long were often used in different cultures as symbols of life and rebirth. They were sometimes decorated as a form of worship in varied cultures in religious ceremonies dealing with fertility. The trees traditionally used in Christmas celebrations are those which are evergreens. If you think about it, during the coldest of winter when snow was on the ground, the "Christmas tree" is always green. This is why some ancient cultures would use them in their various forms of celebration and sometimes even worship.
The Mistletoe was considered a curative plant and was used in many ancient medicine recipes. The Celts even believed that the plant, which is a parasite that lives on trees, contained the soul of the tree on which it lived. The Druids used Mistletoe in their religious ceremonies. The Druid priests would cut it up and distribute it to the people who would place the cuttings over the doorways of their homes. This was supposed to protect the dwellers from various forms of evil.
So, the unbelievers would use these living thing as objects to aid in their pagan celebrations. They would celebrate on December 25, Saturnalia, which was the shortest day of the year. The pagans would celebrate it because it was the end of the shortening of days and the 26th was the beginning of the lengthening of the days. Along with that celebration, the Evergreen (Christmas tree) and the mistletoe were used as symbols of life because they could live through the cold of winter and still hold their green quality.
The Roman Catholic Church could not suppress the pagan holiday of Saturnalia, so it decided to try and take it over by declaring it to be the day of Christ's birth and thereby changing the pagan holiday into a Christian one.
- Christmas Tree: "A number of popular customs developed around Advent and Christmas (Popular Religion). Advent customs include the Advent wreath, which originated in Germany in the 16th century; Advent calendars, which also originated in Germany; preparing the manger, from France; and Advent plays, such as the Search for an Inn (Herbergesuchen in Germany, Posada in Spain). Christmas customs have included the singing of carols (Hymnody); the nativity scene, or crèche (attributed to St. → Francis of Assisi); Christmas lights and fire (including the Yule log); the Christmas tree, which originated in Germany, perhaps as a blending of the Yule tree and the paradise tree used in the 11th-century paradise play; Christmas plays and pageants; greeting cards; gift exchanges; and special ethnic foods and drinks.1
- Mistletoe: "a European semiparasitic green shrub (Viscum album of the family Loranthaceae, the mistletoe family) with thick leaves, small yellowish flowers, and waxy-white glutinous berries broadly : any of various plants of the mistletoe family (as of an American genus Phoradendron) resembling the true mistletoe."2
Can a Christian use the Christmas tree and mistletoe?
Is the Christian free to celebrate a holiday that not only has pagan origins but also is used by the unbelieving world as a promotion of commercialism? The answer is yes and no.
Christians were not bound under the law because we have died to law (Romans 7:4) and we are under grace (Romans 6:14). However, this does not mean that we can go out and commit various sins. It means that we are free and so we have the right to exercise our freedom. On the other hand, we should not use our freedom as an excuse to do questionable things or stumble others. We have to be careful and wise in our freedom.
In addition, in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, Paul talks about the meat that was sacrificed to idols and then was later sold in the meat market place. The question arose, "Can a Christian each such meat?" Paul tells us in verse 25, "Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience' sake." Paul said that it was okay to eat the meat. Why? Because we are free in Christ and that which had a pagan association with it does not degrade the Christian if the Christian has his eyes and his confidence in Jesus who sanctifies all things.
So, it using a Christmas tree and mistletoe depends on the attitude of a particular Christian and what he believes about Scripture in regard to this. For some it's okay, and for other Christians, it is not. Neither should condemn the other.
For more information on this, please see the article Can Christians celebrate Christmas?
- 1. Fahlbusch, E., & Bromiley, G. W. (1999-<2003). The encyclopedia of Christianity (1:455). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill
- 2. Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster's collegiate dictionary. Includes index. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc.