The Missionary and the Christmas Tree

[This entry from 2006, which continues the case that Christmas did NOT derive from a pagan holiday, reminds us that those of us from European, yea, Germanic stock, had pagan ancestors who were brought to faith by missionaries.]

Thanks to reader SSchaper–also to commenter Puzzled– for alerting me to an account of the origin of the Christmas tree that goes way, way back to the missionary who first evangelized the German tribes. who That was St. Boniface. His apologetic technique to get through to the barbarians was to cut down the Sacred Oak of Thor. To the Germans’ amazement, Boniface did not get hammered. This convinced many of them that Boniface had the true God after all.

According to this story, after cutting down the Sacred Oak, Boniface saw an evergreen tree nearby, which he used as an object lesson to teach about the everlasting life through Christ, who died on a tree: According to tradition, when he chopped down the pagan Thor’s Oak at Geismar, Boniface claimed a tiny fir tree growing in its roots as the new Christian symbol. He told the heathen tribes: – “This humble tree’s wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the centre of your households. – Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. – Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your comfort and your guide.” So the fir tree became a sign of Christ amongst the German peoples, and eventually it became a world-wide symbol of Christmas.

One of my students wrote a paper about the Church fathers and how they appropriated Greco-Roman education. They were extremely careful about distinguishing between the true God and the pagan gods. Those who believe these guys would conflate Christianity and paganism just have never read the original sources.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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