Ummm…Actually, It’s A Pagan Tree.

This week, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee unintentionally angered Christians by announcing the lighting of a “holiday tree” in the Rhode Island State House. Fueled by Fox News Channel, a group of carolers interrupted the lighting ceremony by singing O Christmas Tree. They were quoted as saying that they felt Chafee was trying to put down Christianity.

Instead of singing, they should have picked up a history book or simply searched the subject on their computers.

Had they taken the time, they would have found that the display of an evergreen tree or an evergreen branch at this time of year actually originated as part of the Pagan celebration for the winter solstice. Indeed, many historians believe that early Christians even changed the celebration of Christ’s birth to coincide with the solstice to make it easier to attract converts to their fledgling religion.

The carolers also might have discovered that, in the Old Testament, there is a passage in which the prophet Jeremiah condemned the ancient Middle Eastern practice of bringing trees into the home as Pagan. Of course, that was centuries before Jesus was born.

In Early America, William Bradford, the Pilgrim’s second governor, tried to stamp out the practice of decorating trees at Christmas-time as “Pagan mockery”. It wasn’t until 1851, that a “Christmas tree” was placed in an American church by Cleveland Pastor Henry Schwan. Even then, he was condemned for resorting to a Pagan practice and threatened with harm.

My point is this: It’s all too easy for people to find offense at some perceived slight or disrespect. It’s much more difficult to seek tolerance and to search for true understanding. If the carolers had made the effort, they might have actually learned something about the history of their own faith. And they might have understood that Chafee was not attacking Christianity.  He was merely trying to include all of his constituents in the season’s festivities as his Republican predecessor had done.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.