We decorated our Christmas tree this weekend. Christians have not always embraced Christmas trees. Ancient pagans used evergreens to decorate homes and temples at the winter solstice to celebrate the rebirth of the sun god. The Roman Catholic church appropriated pagan holidays they could not stamp out in the common culture, but turned their meaning to Christian themes. Thus the celebration of the rebirth of the sun god at the winter solstice became the celebration of the birth of the Son of God on December 25 – Christmas, or Christ’s Mass.
There is a legend that Martin Luther was the first to bring a fir tree indoors in winter, lit with candles, to simulate the twinkling of stars through moonlit, snow-covered fir stands in the German countryside. Luther scholars have been unable to substantiate this legend. The Puritans banned any pagan expressions of celebration at Christmas (such as Christmas trees — such expressions must have been known even at that time to have to enact laws about them).
A Lutheran pastor has posted his summary of his research into the history of Christians and Christmas trees; thus far it has been the only documented history I have been able to find. The historical meaning of the decorated Christmas tree as he has posted it should be restored to the Christian Church, for its story is the story of sin, promise, and salvation: the story of the Gospel.
Update: Gene Edward Veith corrects me, sort of.