Ah, Christmas Trees. There has been so much debate over the origins of the Christmas tree, along with many misconceptions. Pagans rejoice and Christianity has a history of banning them because they think they are Pagan in origin, especially in early Puritan America. While I cannot say that my own research is definitive, (spoiler alert!), I'm going to give this one to team Christianity, but with Pagan influence. The history of the Christmas tree, and the legeands around it, is incredibly intriguing to me because of the conflicting mythos, and how it has effected history. So, allow me to indulge myself in splattering tidbits as I share my findings, and I'll allow you to draw your own conclusions.
Exibit A: Many have used Jeremiah 10 as an argument against Christmas Trees. It says:
"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."
While this sounds like it could be describing a Christmas tree, it was actually about carving idols and painting them. This blog post explains it well: Does Jeremiah 10 forbid Christmas trees? To me, this is a non-issue, but what is intriguing to me is the afore-mentioned banning of Christmas trees, in part because of the belief that it was idol worship.
Exibit B: There are legends that St. Boniface found Pagans worshipping around an oak tree and became angry. He cut it down and a fir tree immediately grew from the stump, reaching up to the sky. He declared that the evergreen tree would thenceforth be their holy tree, because it represented eternal life. This legend was cut out of whole cloth, but it is also an interesting example of the kinds of Christian-conquers-Pagan myths that were part of the religious conquests of Europe.
Exibit C: Evergreens were sacred to many Pagans from varyous cultures long before Christmas trees. Egyptians brought in palm trees to decorate their homes for the winter solstice, which in turn inspired the Romans in their Saturnalia celebrations. Nordic Pagans, in turn, also brought in evergreens during the winter, some of which I will be covering in more depth in the future. Evergreen trees were sacred, and were symbolic of the god Baldur.
BUT! Nordic people did NOT bring in whole trees for decoration, especially evergreen trees. The DID bring in an oak tree for burning, called the Yule Log. They also decorated trees outside, largely for libations. And yes, the morbid story about sacrifices being hung from trees, including the occasional human sacrifice, is likely true. There is evidence that the Nordic people, like many ancient world cultures, practiced human sacrifes. But this has no connection to the Christmas tree. And I probably don't have to say this, but HELLO! MODERN PAGANS DO NOT BELIEVE IN HUMAN SACRIFICE. Haha. I mean, there are extremists in every religion, but I was disheartened to see so many blog posts that point out this ancient practice and equate it not only with beautiful Christmas trees, but also some kind of sick equation to modern practices. Christians believe in an ultimate human sacrifice, even Christ who was hung on a cross. Thin line? Yes. That would be misconstruing the meaning and symbolism of the atonement. It's important that we don't do that any religions, regardless of our own.
Exibit D: Indoor Evergreen Trees! Decorated! Where do we first see it? In winter pageants celebrating Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Paradise Pageants. Adam and Eve's feast day was December 24th, and in certain church settings, it was celebrated by putting on plays to honor them. The tree with the forbidden fruit was portrayed by bringing in an evergreen tree (the only one that would look nice during the winter), and decorating it with apples. This catholic blog post covers it in more detail: Adam, Eve and the Christmas Tree . In time these trees were expanded to include treats for the attending children, mostly cookies. There was relatively little information available about these Paradise Pageants, but I found enough to have formed the opinion that this theory is very plausible.
So, that is the origin of the Christmas tree, in a nutshell, so far as I can tell. You can learn more about how it spread in popularity in this post from the History channel: History of Christmas Trees
Christmas History Advent Calendar
Christmas Trees is day 3.