Pagans and Christmas Trees

Mother Holding Cute Baby Boy Against Christmas Tree At Night
Melanie Mittmann / EyeEm / Getty Images

Every year around the winter holidays, people new to Paganism start asking the question about whether or not they can have a Christmas tree — or a holiday tree — in their home. The short answer to that question is: it's your house, you can decorate it any darn way you like. If a tree makes you and your family happy, then go for it. The slightly longer answer is that a lot of modern Pagans find a way to blend the Christmas traditions of their childhood with the Pagan beliefs they've come to embrace as adults. So yes, you can have a family Yule celebration and still have a holiday tree, roast chestnuts on the open fire, and even hang stockings with care by the fire.

Did You Know?

  • The tradition of decorating green trees during the winter solstice goes back at least as far as the Egyptian and Roman civilizations.
  • Decorate your tree with things that represent your Pagan spirituality and the themes of the season — lights, sun symbols, magical items, and natural objects.
  • There are some Christian denominations that object to the adornment of a tree to celebrate the birth of Jesus, so Christianity certainly doesn't have a monopoly on the holiday decorating season.

History of Indoor Trees

During the Roman festival of Saturnalia, celebrants often decorated their homes with clippings of shrubs, and hung metal ornaments outside on trees. Typically, the ornaments represented a god — either Saturn, or the family's patron deity. The laurel wreath was a popular decoration as well. The ancient Egyptians didn't have evergreen trees, but they had palms — and the palm tree was the symbol of resurrection and rebirth. They often brought the fronds into their homes during the time of the winter solstice. Early Germanic tribes decorated trees with fruit and candles in honor of Odin for the solstice. These are the folks who brought us the words Yule and wassail, as well as the tradition of the Yule Log!

There a number plants that are associated with the winter solstice season, in a Pagan context, if you don't have the space for a full tree, or if you want a more minimalist approach. Boughs of evergreens, vases of holly branches and yew, birch logs, mistletoe, and ivy are all sacred to the winter solstice in many Pagan traditions.

Handmade Christmas ornament hanging on the Christmas tree
Sol de Zuasnabar Brebbia / Getty Images

Make Your Tree as Pagan as You Want

In other words, if you want to have a decorated tree, or even just deck your halls with boughs of green things, for the holiday, don't let anyone tell you it doesn't have Pagan origins. Obviously, you probably won't want to hang a little baby Jesus or a bunch of crosses on it like your Christian neighbors, but there are a ton of other things out there you can use instead.

  • Suns and solar ornaments - raid the craft stores and find stars to turn into suns
  • Gods Eyes — make then out of cinnamon sticks and seasonal colored yarn or ribbons
  • Pipecleaner pentacles — make them out of shiny chenille stems, bent into stars with circles around them
  • Natural objects like acorns, feathers, holly, mistletoe or pine cones
  • Lights, lights, and more lights
  • Colors of the season: red, green, gold and white
  • Magical items — cups, wands, or daggers
  • Fertility symbols — eggs, antlers, horns, even phalluses (if you don't mind shocking grandma a bit)

The Tree and Christianity

Keep in mind that while Christmas itself is, by its very nature, a Christian holiday, the Christian faith doesn't have a monopoly on decorated trees during the winter, as mentioned above. In fact, there are a few Christian denominations that actually object to the decoration of a tree to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The prophet Jeremiah actually warned his followers not to cut down a tree, bring it inside, and cover it with baubles — because this Middle Eastern practice was inherently Pagan in nature:

"Thus saith the Lord, learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not." (Jeremiah 10:2-4)

Some time later, the English Puritan groups frowned upon such idolatry as Yule logs, Christmas trees, and mistletoe — again, because they were heathen in origin. Oliver Cromwell railed against such practices, saying that such profane activities desecrated a day which should be sacred.

Close-Up Of Christmas Tree Against White Background
Supreeya Chantalao / EyeEm / Getty Images

More Yule Decorations

So what about a tree topper? Often, they're found pre-made as angels, but you could substitute a star, a Santa Claus, or some other item that strikes you as appropriate — why not stick a Krampus decoration on the top of your tree? There are plenty of ways to bring the season indoors — icicles and snow, boughs and plants, candles, and solar symbols. With a bit of imagination and creativity the possibilities are endless! 

In addition to the decorated tree, did you know that many other Christmas customs have their origins in early Pagan cultures? Caroling, gift exchanges, and even the much-maligned fruitcake all got their start in classical Pagan traditions. 

The bottom line is, if you want to have a holiday tree for Yule, then go right ahead and have one. Decorate it in the way that speaks to you, and enjoy your holiday — after all, the Winter Solstice only comes once a year!

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Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "Pagans and Christmas Trees." Learn Religions, Apr. 5, 2023, Wigington, Patti. (2023, April 5). Pagans and Christmas Trees. Retrieved from Wigington, Patti. "Pagans and Christmas Trees." Learn Religions. (accessed June 8, 2023).