The Christmas Tree: A Counterfeit Tree of Life

“Veneration of the Tree of Life”: Manichaeans worshiping the Tree of Life in the Realm of Light, from cave 38 (cave 25 by Albert Grünwedel) at Bezeklik Caves. Public Domain

When my daughter was young, she watched the Disney cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland over and over again. One part that I had memorized at one point was when Alice is introduced to the Cheshire Cat.

Alice: “I just wanted to ask which way I ought to go.”

Cheshire Cat: “Well, that depends on where you want to get to.”

Alice: “Oh, it really doesn’t matter as long as I–”

Cheshire Cat interrupts: “Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go.”

I went down a rabbit hole recently. Well, metaphorically speaking, at least. You might remember me remarking about the fakeness of some tree ornaments during this time of year. It got me thinking, “Why do people hang balls on Christmas trees?” I then wound up taking a journey in a maze of twisty passages that would rival the rabbit hole that Alice went down to get to Wonderland.

I learned that some things I had been taught about Christmas trees were not necessarily true, but I also learned some new things that I found shocking and should disturb any Christian considering the use of one. Every new thing I learned, though, led me to something else. Each time, I kept thinking of the late Billy Mays who would have said, “But wait, there’s more!”

I intend to show you today that a Christmas tree is nothing less than a counterfeit symbol for the Tree of Life. Not only is it pagan, but its imagery goes all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia.

Fun fact: The Vatican did not have a Christmas tree until 1982 when Pope John Paul had one erected in St Peter’s Square. You have probably heard that the custom of putting up a tree came to America from Germany, but “Along the lower Rhine, an area of Roman Catholic majority, the Christmas tree was largely regarded as a Protestant custom. As a result, it remained confined to the upper Rhineland for a relatively long period of time” (Wikipedia article on “Christmas Tree“). The custom was promoted heavily by Martin Luther, so it should not be shocking to learn that the custom came to America via Hessian soldiers stationed in Quebec in 1781 (ibid).

What about before that, though? Where does the idea of a Christmas tree really come from? Have you considered what its real origin is? Well, the answer, as HWA often pointed out, is at the beginning. In fact, when Pope John Paul spoke about putting up a tree in the Vatican, he hit the nail on the head that it is a “reminder” of the Tree of Life. But wait, there’s more.

Take a look at the Book of Genesis, and you will find an interesting connection.

The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man He had formed. The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

~Ge 2:8-9 (HCSB)

In the very beginning, there were two trees in the garden. I think we have heard enough messages about “the two trees” that we all are familiar with what they stand for. However, what you might not have considered in this case is that for every symbol that God has created, Satan has created at least one counterfeit. These two trees are no exception. I submit to you that the current Christmas tree is nothing less than the supplanting of the Tree of Life with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, providing a very distorted view of the nature of man and the plan of God.

What you might not realize is that many ancient cultures had some sort of notion of a “tree of life” and it stretches all the way back to Mesopotamian times. However, I have only been able to locate one supposed instance of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and I find the source very suspect at best. What is interesting about that one instance, though, is that it calls it the “Tree of Truth” instead of the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”. Let that sink in for a moment.

The Urartian tree of life, Public Domain

The tree of life is usually depicted with ten or more circles or orbs that represent divine attributes or powers. These orbs are believed to be some type of fruit, most likely pomegranates, but realize that it varies because of the length of the timespan we are looking at. This hints at the later tradition of hanging balls upon a Christmas tree, but do be aware that the symbolism has changed significantly over the millennia, and not for the better. Still, even millennia later, fruit was often hung on a tree during this time of year. Supposedly around 2600 BC, we see that there is a winged solar disk that floats above the tree representing a combination of the sky and sun gods. Of course, today one might put a star or angel on top of a tree, but it looks pretty much the same in the end.

Neo-Assyrian version of Tree of Life with sky/sun god floating above

Kings and sometimes other deities were pictured with the tree of life in an effort to equate the king’s power with the tree. In other words, the king kept the divine world order with the power of the tree as decreed by the god Assur.

When the Chaldeans, a name you undoubtedly recognize, moved into the region, they learned Akkadian, assimilated the customs of the surrounding people, including the tree of life, and so the symbol persisted.

But wait, there’s more.

Images of Asherah appear in the archaeological record early on. In the Bible, we often see Asherah/Astaroth associated with groves and even sometimes pictured as a wooden pole of some type. Ancient images of Asherah often picture the top half of a woman and the bottom half of a tree trunk.

The reason I bring up this last point is because ancient Celts and other European tribes worshiped in groves or forests.

From an examination of the Teutonic words for “temple” Grimm has made it probable that amongst the Germans the oldest sanctuaries were natural woods. However that may be, tree-worship is well attested for all the great European families of the Aryan stock.

~Wikisource, “The Golden Bough/The Worship of Trees

Of course, other cultures have similar tendencies, but we are concentrating upon the history of a particular type of tree.

But wait, there’s more.

Oak trees were particularly important to Druids, Celts and even some Germanic tribes. The Donar Oak was particularly important until a man called Saint Boniface cut it down. This angered many of the tribes in the area. However, some converted to Christianity (so called) because he was not immediately struck down for his act of defiance against Donar. Within the next year, a young sapling evergreen sprung up near where the oak used to stand, and Boneface pointed to this as a sign of God’s favor. It is believed that through this act, the Germanic tribes began to associate evergreen trees with Christmas. It should be noted, however, that evergreen wreaths had long been associated with eternal life in many cultures, both western and eastern. Rome, for example, used wreaths extensively in celebrating Saturnalia.

But wait, there’s more.

Hanging round fruit on a tree was around as late as the Middle Ages. The Catholic Church had a propensity to associate certain saints with certain days, and 24 December was designated as the “name day” for Adam and Eve. Medieval mystery plays would often be used to portray certain stories to the masses. One such play centered on the story of Adam and Eve. An evergreen tree, called the “tree of paradise”, would be decorated with apples to symbolize the forbidden fruit (Wikipedia, already cited). Later, the apples and other edibles were replaced by ornaments, including glass balls, but it is apparent that it really represents eating of the wrong tree, that is, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

So, which tree is really represented by the Christmas tree? It seems obvious to me that the name “Tree of Life” was transferred to something very counterfeit, and it really represents the tree that human beings have been partaking of all along. The Christmas tree is just the continuation of sinful rebellion against God, and its pagan practices distort humanity’s origins and God’s plan of salvation for all.

Anyhow, this is just a long-winded explanation of a Scripture I hope we all are already familiar with.

29 “When the Lord your God annihilates the nations before you, which you are entering to take possession of, and you drive them out and live in their land, 30 be careful not to be ensnared by their ways after they have been destroyed before you. Do not inquire about their gods, asking, ‘How did these nations worship their gods? I’ll also do the same.’ 31 You must not do the same to the Lord your God, because they practice every detestable thing, which the Lord hates, for their gods. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. 32 [a]You must be careful to do everything I command you; do not add anything to it or take anything away from it.

~Dt 12:29-32 (HCSB)

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