Christmas Tree - Secular Vs. Religious Nature

Secular Vs. Religious Nature

The Christmas tree's origins are uncertain, but it is associated with the celebration of the Christmas holidays, so there has been some amount of debate as to whether it should be considered a secular or a religious custom.

  • It has been rejected as a "pagan" tradition that should not be associated with the Christian religious celebration of Christmas.
  • It has been rejected as a "Christian" tradition that should not be allowed to be endorsed in secular contexts in countries that have a separation of church and state.
  • As a custom arising in Protestant parts of Germany, it has been rejected as a "Protestant" custom in Catholic countries, detracting from the Mediterranean traditions of the Christmas crib.

Pope John Paul II introduced the Christmas tree custom to the Vatican in 1982. Although at first disapproved of by some as out of place at the centre of the Roman Catholic Church, the Christmas tree has become an integral part of the Vatican Christmas celebrations, and in 2005 Pope Benedict XVI spoke of it as part of the normal Christmas decorations in Catholic homes. In 2004, Pope John Paul called the Christmas tree a symbol of Christ. This very ancient custom, he said, exalts the value of life, as in winter what is evergreen becomes a sign of undying life, and it reminds Christians of the "tree of life" of Genesis 2:9, an image of Christ, the supreme gift of God to humanity. In the previous year he said: "Beside the crib, the Christmas tree, with its twinkling lights, reminds us that with the birth of Jesus the tree of life has blossomed anew in the desert of humanity. The crib and the tree: precious symbols, which hand down in time the true meaning of Christmas." The Catholic Church's official Book of Blessings has a service for the blessing of the Christmas tree in a home.

In 2006, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport removed all of its Christmas trees in the middle of the night rather than allow a rabbi to put up a menorah near the largest tree display. Officials feared that one display would open the door for other religious displays, and, in 2007, they opted to display a grove of birches in polyethylene terephthalate snow rather than religious symbols or Christmas trees. In 2005, the city of Boston renamed the spruce tree used to decorate the Boston Common a "Holiday Tree" rather than a "Christmas Tree". The name change drew a poor response from the public and it was reversed after the city was threatened with several lawsuits.

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