An offhand comment from one of my friends on Facebook prompted me to do research on whether or not the Christmas Tree was pagan in origin.
It's an interesting question because there has long been two theories about Christmas in America and two ways of celebrating. One is very austere: no tree and few or modest presents and hours spent in church. The other is a lavish tradition of a brightly decorated tree, feasting, gifting and parties as well as church. And everything in between--Christmas is never one thing.
Folk who feel that the more austere Christmas is more religious tend to claim that the Christmas Tree and whatever elements of the lavish Christmas they disapprove of is "pagan".
However it turns out that decorating the house with palms or other greenery is appropriate for Jewish festivals such as Passover. Palms are not available through out the world; however evergreens are widespread and carry a symbolic message of long life, immortality or hope in times of despair. While the idea of a Christmas Tree is linked with supposed pre-Christian pagan rituals, I'm not able to locate any definitive tradition of what, exactly, those supposed pagan rituals were.
I do find accounts of medieval morality plays at Christmas that feature a tree inside the church called "the Tree of Paradise". Typically an apple or apples would be tied to the branches for Adam and Eve to pluck. This might have inspired the idea of tying gifts for small children to the branches of a tree. Who knows?
I also find accounts going back to the 15th century of trees cut down and displayed in guildhalls at Christmas. Often the trees were used to fuel winter bonfires in the village square where the young men and women could dance. This may or may not be a pagan relic--it might just be a way of cheering up the grim season of darkness in Northern Europe.
There are traditions in Christian culture that go back 600 years involving the use of evergreen trees to symbolize that even in the depths of winter God is with us. The "modern" tradition of gifts being placed under the tree goes back at least 200 years. I think if Christians want to decorate a tree at Christmas, they can do so in good conscience, at least from the standpoint of their religion.
After all, if Buddha found Enlightenment under the bodhi tree, what's wrong with the kids finding a little fun on Christmas morning?
All I ask is that you recycle your tree. And don't forget to plant a new one on Arbor Day. Thus concludes the second blog of Christmas.
The first blog of Christmas - "Happy Holidays"
The 3rd Blog of Christmas - Pearl Harbor Day in this season