Christmas tree may have roots in pagan add-on to festivities

Sat, Nov 17, 2012, 00:00

There are very few references in the Bible to Christmas trees

Earlier in the week religious advocacy group the Iona Institute reported on its website (since edited) that fun- hating secularists in Brussels were, once more, trying to stop religion and ruin Christmas.

In this instance, Belgian government officials were apparently removing a Christmas tree so as not to upset Muslims.

Damn you PC brigade!

(Brief aside: I like to imagine the PC brigade operating from some kind of PC station, being alerted to religious iconography by a PC alarm, sliding down poles and jumping into a PC engine with wailing sirens. The PC chief is probably Michael D Higgins in a fireman’s hat.)

Now, it’s easy for pedants to pick holes with this story – the Christmas tree is barely a Christian symbol at all. There are very few references in the Bible to Christmas trees. That said, the Acts of the Apostles contains a great double-page spread on how to do home-made paper chains on a budget and there’s that incident in St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where Judas Iscariot drunkenly knocked over the office tree doing karaoke at the Christmas party. (“OMG WTF!?” texted St Paul using iParchment and a goose quill stylus. “Iscariot is so random! LOL!”)

It’s unknown if Our Lord had a Christmas tree. Indeed, many people with PhDs and stuff (boffins) maintain that the Christian tree is, in fact, a pagan add-on to our Christmas festivities and harks back to a pre-Christian fashion for putting life-affirming evergreens in one’s crannóg.

The trend returned to these islands, apparently, thanks to a homesick Prince Albert and was then propagandised into popularity by Charles Dickens in his story Santa Baby 2: Christmas Maybe starring Jenny McCarthy (my internet connection is down so I might have the wrong title).

So while some Christmas icons, like Santa Claus and Will Ferrell’s Elf, have a strong theological basis, others, like the Christmas tree, actually refer to an older religious tradition that may or may not involve the Horned God, Danu the Earth Goddess and some sort of ritual sacrifice.

This, however, just makes the Iona Institute’s intervention and concern with festive tree care all the more thought- provoking. Indeed, amid the hustle and bustle of my busy modern life, I did ask myself: “Are we forgetting the true meaning of solstice?”

It is certainly not like the old- fashioned solstices we used to know (tripping balls on psychotropic fungi at Newgrange while a mistletoe-covered druid entreats the sun to return and kills a goat). It has become very commercial.

So this year, encouraged by the Iona Institute’s reverence for the evergreen, I’m looking at the solstice tree and taking some time out to think a little bit about the original solstice story – how the Oak King kills the Holly King and reigns until midsummer or otherwise the goddess will be angry and the sun may not return.

Of course, there’s another problem with the “Muslims are ruining tree-worship/Christmas” approach to the story. It is what boffins call “not true”.

On closer inspection, the Brussels Christmas tree was just replaced with an artier one made from TV screens, to the annoyance of “some” locals, a nearby nativity scene went untouched (originally the Iona Institute story suggested this was being removed) and Muslims and the PC brigade had nothing to do with it.

To be fair, those at the Iona Institute were probably just trying to get us to think about the nature of “truth” . “What is truth?” they were probably saying to themselves. “Is this true? Not in a literal sense.”

Then they high-fived one another and got back to what they’re best at – worrying about “traditional marriage” and writing fan-fiction about the Inquisition.