Does Jeremiah 10 Condemn Christmas Trees?

Sometimes these verses from Jeremiah are used to say that Christians should not have a Christmas tree in their home:

“Hear the word that the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the LORD: ‘Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.’”

In Jeremiah's time, as well as throughout the OT period, idolatrous images were often made by using a wooden core and overlaying it with silver, gold, or both. Thus, it was not solid gold or solid silver, but had that appearance. It is possible that the Asherah poles referred to many times in the OT were fashioned in this way. The golden calf at Sinai was probably also like this. The idol was then understood to be the visible manifestation of where the god or goddess would appear. The idol was the icon of the deity, thus leading to the false worship that was condemned by every prophet, from Moses onward.

Green Christmas trees have long been used by Christians as emblems of life, for they are evergreen, even in winter. Christian symbols, such as crosses, are hung from their branches. Gifts under the tree remind us of the greatest gift we have in Jesus. If there are any gold or silver-colored decorations, these are only that, decorations. 

I have never met a single Christian who ever, even once in their life, looked at a Christmas tree and worshiped it. Nor have I met one who considered the tree as the place where a pagan god manifests himself. Rather, for Christians, the tree has a meaning diametrically opposed to any pagan meaning, for it points to the birth of the Messiah, the Son of one true God.

Bear in mind that Jeremiah was speaking to people of his own day. This is not a prophecy of what would happen centuries later with Christmas trees. Jeremiah is talking to his fellow Judeans who were worshiping pagan images. By the way, these images would not even have looked like our Christmas trees, since the branches would have been lopped off, bark removed, and the whole thing would have resembled more of a golden or silver pole, with some base to keep it from falling over. Further, no one today (at least no individual I have ever met) worships a pagan god under the form of a Christmas tree. Certainly, no Christian does this. Rather, Christians have many positive images connected with Christmas trees.

Therefore, we are free to have Christmas trees or not have these trees in our home. What we are not free to do is to condemn or judge or even warn those who choose to have such trees.

Written by Chad Bird, 1517 Scholar