By Bob Thiel
Most who profess Christianity, as well as many who do not, now celebrate the holiday known as Christmas. Many bring in evergreen trees as part of their celebration of it. Since neither Christmas nor use of trees for such purposes are not enjoined in the Bible, where did they come from?
Are you familiar with the term ‘tannenbaum religion’?
Where did that expression come from? Do you or others you know practice some version of a ‘tannenbaum religion’?
What is a Tannenbaum? Who Uses Them?
Tannenbaum is a German term literally meaning “fir tree.” It is the German term for a Christmas tree.
The use of trees in pagan worship goes back thousands of years. Various trees (for example, the Irminsul, Thor’s Oak and the figurative Yggdrasil) held special significance for the ancient Germanic tribes, appearing throughout historic accounts as sacred symbols and objects.
Later, trees got promotion from the Catholic saint Boniface and later heavy promotion in the by the former Roman Catholic priest Martin Luther. Martin Luther and Boniface essentially claimed that the triangular shape of fir trees pointed to their trinitarian conceptions of the Godhead, hence this was part of their justification for why trees should be used in Greco-Roman-Protestant worship.
Notice also the following:
The first decorated tree was at Riga in Latvia, in 1510. In the early 16th century, Martin Luther is said to have decorated a small Christmas Tree with candles, to show his children how the stars twinkled through the dark night (The Chronological History of the Christmas Tree Copyright © 1998-2007 Maria Hubert von Staufer. http://www.christmasarchives.com/trees.html viewed 12/22/07).
Back in the 16th century, Catholics warned that Martin Luther’s promotion of Christmas trees was a pagan form of idolatry.
Notice also the following:
Protestantism was sometimes referred to as the “Tannenbaum religion” (Mantle: 7) (Translated from German as shown in Österreichische Zeitschrift für Volkskunde, Volumes 82-83. 1979, p. 289).
The Tannenbaum (which simply means “fir tree”) came to be associated, apocryphally or not, with Martin Luther. Because of that, many Catholics in Germany once disdained it. The “aversion of many Catholics went so far,” Mr. Brunner writes, “that at the end of the nineteenth century many simply called Protestantism the ‘Tannenbaum religion.’ ”
As late as the 1930s, the Vatican was recommending manger scenes instead of Christmas trees as a more theologically sound sort of decoration. (Felton E. The Stranger in the House: Christmas trees arrived in England and America only in the mid-19th century. Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2012)
Both the Old and New Testaments condemn idolatry:
4 ‘Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:4)
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14-15)
21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. (1 John 5:21)
While Martin Luther and his followers condemned some of the idolatry of Rome, they turned to pagan idols like trees.
The Church of Rome condemned Christmas trees because of their pagan origins as well as the fact that the Bible teaches nothing about the use of evergreen trees in conjunction with the proper worship of Jesus.
At least as late as 1896 century, Roman Catholics claimed that the use of evergreen trees made Protestantism the “Tannenbaum religion” (Moser Dietz-Rüdiger. Bräuche und Feste im christlichen Jahreslauf: Brauchformen der Gegenwart in kulturgeschichtlichen Zusammenhängen. Edition Kaleidoskop, 1993, p. 107).
Despite the initial condemnation of Christmas trees, those associated with the Church of Rome later adopted them.
Growing up in the 20th century in a Roman Catholic household, my parent always had an evergreen tree in the house related to Christmas. When my wife Joyce and I visited a Seventh-day Adventist elementary school in 1990, we saw a ‘Christmas tree’ in every classroom.
Are these trees Christian or pagan?
In the 21st century, a Roman Catholic author wrote:
So we don’t reject the use of trees at Christmas time because they were pagan, we continue to use them, because as symbols of life they now point to Christ. (Killian Brian. Halloween, as autumn celebration, reminder God’s name is hallowed. Catholic Online International News. 10/31/06).
So, although these trees are known to be pagan, those who have intentionally adopted pagan practices endorse them.
What About Christmas?
Perhaps, it should also be added that The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches:
Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church …
Natalis Invicti. The well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date. For the history of the solar cult, its position in the Roman Empire, and syncretism with Mithraism, see Cumont’s epoch-making “Textes et Monuments” etc., I, ii, 4, 6, p. 355… (Martindale C. Transcribed by Susanti A. Suastika. Christmas. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III. Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
Helios Mithras is one god…The 25 December was observed as his birthday, the natalis invicti, the rebirth of the winter-sun, unconquered by the rigours of the season (Arendzen J. Mithraism. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911).
The birthday of the sun god Mithras was what the pagan sun-worshiping Roman Emperor Constantine observed. He wanted his followers to observe it as well and it ended up getting officially adopted in the fourth century by the Greco-Roman bishops as ‘Christmas.’
The World Book Encyclopedia notes:
In 354 A.D., Bishop Liberius of Rome ordered the people to celebrate on December 25. He probably chose this date because the people of Rome already observed it as the Feast of Saturn, celebrating the birthday of the sun (Sechrist E.H. Christmas. World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 3. Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, Chicago, 1966, pp. 408-417).
Scholars, including Roman Catholic ones, realize that Christmas was not a biblically, nor apostolically, enjoined date and that its observance is related to worship of pagan sun gods.
Since early faithful Christians did not celebrate any birth dates, including December 25th, there was no way that they were using Tannenbaums as part of their worship.
The Bible and the Use of Trees in Worship
But what does the Bible teach about the use of evergreen trees?
Let’s start with something that the Catholic accepted English translation of the Bible, Douay Old Testament Of Anno Domini 1609 (DOT), teaches:
2 Thus saith our Lord: According to the ways of the Gentiles learn not: and (a) of the signs of heaven, which the heathen fear, be not afraid: 3 Because the laws of the people are vain: because the work of the hand of the artificer hath cut a tree out of the forest with an axe. 4 with silver and gold he hath decked it: with nails and hammers he hath compacted it, that it fall not asunder… (Jerermie/Jeremiah 10:2-4, The Original And True Douay Old Testament Of Anno Domini 1609. Prepared and Edited by Dr. William von Peters, Ph.D. Copyright © 2005, Dr. William G. von Peters. Ph.D. 2005 copyright assigned to VSC Corp.).
29 When the Lord thy God shall have destroyed before thy face the nations, that thou enterest in to possess, and thou shalt possess them, and dwell in their land: 30 beware left thou imitate them, after they be subverted at thy entering in, and thou require their ceremonies, saying: As these nations have worshipped their Gods, so will I also worship. 31 Thou shalt not do in like manner to the Lord thy God. For all the abominations, that our Lord doeth abhor, have they done to their Gods, offering their sons and daughters, and burning them with fire (Deuteronomy 12:29-31, DOT).
Even Catholic translations of the Bible show that God does not approve of trees that are decorated in worship or other practices associated with pagan worship. This is also shown in Protestant-preferred translations of the Bible, like the King James Version. Such things should not be done by Christians.
Furthermore, notice that using green trees as part of worship was condemned by God thousands of years ago:
2 ‘You must completely destroy all the places where the nations you dispossess have served their gods, on high mountains, on hills, under any spreading tree; 3 you must tear down their altars, smash their sacred stones, burn their sacred poles, hack to bits the statues of their gods and obliterate their name from that place. (Deuteronomy 12:2-3, New Jerusalem Bible, NJB, a Catholic translation) adaptations
2 Destroy all the places in which the nations, that you shall possess, worshipped their gods upon high mountains, and hills, and under every shady tree: 3 Overthrow their altars, and break down their statues, burn their groves with fire, and break their idols in pieces: destroy their names out of those places. 4 You shall not do so to the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 12:2-4, DOT).
16 Beware lest perhaps your heart be deceived, and you depart from our Lord, and serve strange Gods, and adore them (Deuteronomy 11:16, DOT).
9 When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God shall give thee, beware lest thou have a mind to imitate the abominations of those nations…12 For the Lord abhorreth all these things, and for these abominations he will destroy them at thy coming. (Deuteronomy 18:9,12, DOT)
Catholic translations of the Bible show that spreading shady trees, like evergreens, were not to be part of the worship of the true God–and that people should not be deceived and serve such strange customs or use other pagan practices.
The Truth About Tannenbaums
The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, warn against idolatry.
Tannenbaums were part of ancient pagan religious practices that the God of the Bible condemns.
Consider also the following:
24 God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24, NJB)
The truth is that Christmas reminds us that people are often unwilling to worship God as He intended. Christmas shows us that, in this age, many prefer pagan substitutes that they rationalize as somehow acceptable if they pretend the holiday is about Jesus.
Those who truly believe Jesus’ words, “Human beings live not on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, NJB) will not celebrate a compromised pagan holiday such as Christmas because it contains practices and symbols warned against in the Bible and was never enjoined upon true believers to practice.
Early Christians did not celebrate Christmas, and to this day those faithful in Church of God groups such as the Continuing Church of God still do not celebrate it.
Nor do we bring evergreen trees into our homes in an effort to worship God with something that He specifically stated He did not want used in His worship.