Updated: Dec 21, 2020
An Asatru group recently posted on Facebook an article about this upcoming time of year, when Pagans historically chopped down trees, brought them indoors, and decorated them for worship. So many people strongly believe that the Xmas tree has a connection to Scandinavian Heathenry, and a connection to the veneration of the Aesir. This is accepted as fact, despite the fact no one has given any evidence for this. In fact, the evidence from historical Heathen times suggests that chopping down sacred trees, like the Irminsul and Thor's Oak, were acts of religious terrorism by christians as a means of sacrilege to Heathenry.
Heathens did not have “Yule Trees” historically, nor did they bring trees indoors. While sumble was done inside the Wine Hall (or Mead Hall) following blot, blot and Heathen ritual was done outdoors (blot using a stone altar, or a haerg), in sacred groves. In Old Saxon Heathenry in particular, the Franks burnt down and destroyed sacred groves in the forests and they destroyed the Saxon Irminsul, a very large Godpole that was Outdoors. The Franks, upon winning the Saxon Wars and forcing the Saxons to be Christians, enacted the Lex Saxonum. The Lex Saxonum (dated to the late 8th century) forbid upon forced conversion veneration in sacred groves outdoors. Adam of Bremen in 1073 complained that many Saxons were still venerating in their sacred groves outdoors in his time.
Gesta Hammabirgemsos ecclesiae pontificum (c.1073 AD) Adam of Bremen, Deeds of the Bishops of Hamburg, 1073 AD. Please note: the word "outdoors" in parenthesis are my addition to the text for emphasis:
“For the Saxons worshiped those who were not gods. Among them they venerated (Uuoden/Odin), who they were to venerate on holy days, even with sacrifice. They did not think it was appropriate to confine their Gods in Roman temples (i.e. indoors) or mold them in any likeness of human form. They consecrated groves (outdoors) and they venerated ancestral spirits there (outdoors) with reverence. They valued with reverence leafy trees and springs (outdoors). They worshiped also a stock of wood of no small size, set up in the open (outdoors). In the native language, it was called “Irminsul” (strong pillar) which in Latin means “universal column,” as it sustains everything. The excerpts about the beginning, the customs, and the religious observances of the Saxons (the Slavs and Swedes still observe their Heathen rites) we have taken from the writings of Einhard.” PS- Outside of Sumble, all Heathen ritual was outdoors, in nature. Church indoors is decidedly Christian. See the next quote, Adam of Bremen in the 11th century was using Rudolf of Fulda as a source.
Another historical passage of the Irminsul, the one whom Adam of Bremen used as a source: The Translation of Saint Alexander of Rome (c.855 AD). Rudolf of Fulda. "They (the Saxons) also worshiped in the open air (outdoors) a vertically upright trunk of no small size, [called] in their mother tongue, Irminsul, or in Latin ‘columna universalis‘… in the sense that it carries everything."
Gesta Hammabirgemsos ecclesiae pontificum (c.1073 AD) Adam of Bremen, Deeds of the Bishops of Hamburg, 1073 AD. “He ordered all pagan rites, of which superstition still flourished in this region, to be uprooted in such a manner that he had new churches built throughout the (Hamburg) diocese in place of the Sacred Groves (outdoors) which our lowlanders frequented with foolish reverence.” I, love this passage as it shows that as late as the second half of the 11th century, almost 300 years after Widukind’s baptism, the Saxons were still quite Heathen clinging to their heritage and rejecting christianity. Hamburg is a Saxon city.
Lex Saxonum Law 21 (circa 782 AD): “If anyone shall have made a vow at springs or trees (outdoors) or groves (outdoors), or shall have made any offerings after the manner of the Heathen (outdoors) and shall have partaken of a repast in honor of the demons, if he shall be a noble 60 solidi, if a freeman 30, if a litus 15. If, indeed they have not the means of paying at once, they shall be given into the service of the church until the solidi are paid.” PS- This passage also shows that Christians did believe that the Heathen Gods existed, but they called them “demons”. Please keep in mind too, this passage shows that Heathen offerings were left OUTDOORS, where Heathen ritual was done. I can show MANY MANY more historical quotes showing Heathen ritual outdoors, but for brevity, lets not make this blog article the length of the Bible or War & Peace (Tolstoy). PS- Ash and Oak trees reign supreme in historical Germanic and Scandinavian Heathenry. There is zero mention of any ritual being done with pine trees, or evergreen trees. However, we do have sources that Donar's Oak was in fact an Oak tree (obviously), and we do have Scandinavian sources showing the sacredness of the Ash (with Odin and Spears). The only thing sacred trees were decorated with, if we were to believe historical sources, were blood from blots. The complete silence of pine trees and evergreen in Christian worship until the 17th century, is pretty astonishing, if this was something continued from Heathen times. Also, every modern movement of "neo-paganism" claims the church stole xmas traditions from their historical paganism. All seem to want to state Xmas and Easter was stolen from them. It just goes to show how much modern pagans want things from the church to be founded in their historical past. Sound scholastic research should start with the historical religion itself. Do the Eddas, Sagas, and other historical sources show pine tree decortaing in historical Germanic/Scandinavian Heathenry? The answer is a resounding "no!"
The Origin of the Xmas Tree
Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann (1978). Das Weihnachtsfest. Eine Kultur- und Sozialgeschichte der Weihnachtszeit [Christmas: A cultural and social history of Christmastide] (in German). Bucher. p. 22. ISBN 978-3-7658-0273-7. Man kann als sicher annehmen daß die Luzienbräuche gemeinsam mit dem Weinachtsbaum in Laufe des 19. Jahrhunderts aus Deutschland über die gesellschaftliche Oberschicht der Herrenhöfe nach Schweden gekommen sind. (English: One can assume with certainty that traditions of lighting, together with the Christmas tree, crossed from Germany to Sweden in the 19th century via the princely upper classes.) This quote should blow people in Asatru away. We have scholars tracing Xmas trees coming to Sweden in the 1800s, which means there is ZERO link to a Scandinavian Heathen past. Scholars are not always right.
I am a history buff. TV Miniseries like "North and South" have widely been criticized for showing the Christmas tree in American and Confederate homes during the American Civil War. Christmas trees were not popular or widespread in America until after the Civil War. As a matter of fact, the Pilgrims, who came to America from England (albeit it, England to the Netherlands where the Mayflower set sail), they were against Christmas trees due to there being no biblical reference. And as a matter of fact, the Pilgrims were right: Jews did not celebrate birthdays. There are only two "birthdays" in the Bible: In the Old Testament a Gentile Pharaoh spared a cup-bearer and beheaded a baker at his birthday party, and in the New Testament, Herod Agrippa (A Gentile, an Edumean appointed by Rome to rule) had John the Baptist beheaded at his birthday party. Only Gentiles had birthdays, and they seemed to like beheading people in front of their guests at their birthday parties, a fact not lost on many Protestants, like those who came to America seeking religious freedom from Catholocism's nonsense. While many Jews today celebrate birthdays (without beheadings), Jews in biblical times did not celebrate birthdays. PS- Germanic Heathens did not celebrate birthdays either. For example the Old Saxon Heliand had to explain what a birthday was to Saxon Heathens, and the Heliand was written in circa 830 AD... But lets get back to our topic at hand.. The Pilgrims did not celebrate Xmas, AT ALL... The Grinch would have loved New Plymouth. If the Bible didn’t direct it, the Pilgrims didn’t do it. This means they didn’t buy into any additions made to Christianity especially Roman church traditions. Since Christmas was not mentioned in the Bible the Pilgrims ignored the holiday. One year after the Pilgrims arrived in the New World on December 25, 1621, Governor William Bradford discovered a few recent arrivals to New Plymouth didn’t want to work on what the Pilgrims considered just another day. He made a notation in Of Plymouth Plantation: “On the day called Christmas Day, the Governor called [the settlers] out to work as was usual. However, the most of this new company excused themselves and said it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them that if they made it [a] matter of conscience he would spare them till they were better informed; so he led away the rest and left them.” The Puritans agreed with the Pilgrims. In fact, by Christmas, 1659 the Five-Shilling Anti-Christmas Law was enacted by the General Court of Massachusetts. The law stated: "Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas, or the like, either by forebearing labor, feasting, or any other way upon such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for each offense five shillings as a fine to the country." There were no laws by Pilgrims or Puritans against Christmas trees, because they were not yet popular enough to need a decree against. Not to mention, since they saw Xmas itself as not being biblical, outlawing Xmas altogether gave no need to outlaw the Xmas tree. And believe it or not, Boston actually outlawed the celebration of Christmas from 1659 to 1681. My personal research indicates that schools in Boston held classes on Xmas Day as late as 1870. Too bad Boston did not outlaw priests molesting little boys, but apparently, Christ Mass was far more evil than priests' sexual sinfulness. While the "Tannenbaum" or "Christmas Tree" did originate in Germany, this does not mean that it goes back to Germanic Heathen times. As a matter of fact, the Xmas tree was a "new" custom, many in England who came to America did not even know of this "new" custom. "A chronicle from Stasbourg, written in 1604 and widely seen as the first account of a Christmas tree, records that Protestant artisans brought fir trees into their homes in the holiday season and decorated them with "roses made of colored paper, apples, wafers, tinsel, sweetmeats, etc." ... The Christmas tree spread out in German society from the top down, so to speak. It moved from elite households to broader social strata, from urban to rural areas, from the Protestant north to the Catholic south, and from Prussia to other German states." Perry, Joe (27 September 2010). Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History. University of North Carolina Press. p. 32. ISBN 9780807899410.
Crump, William D. (15 September 2001). The Christmas Encyclopedia, 3d ed. McFarland. p. 386. ISBN 9780786468270. "Christmas trees in the countryside did not appear until World War I, although Slovenians of German ancestry were decorating trees before then. Traditionally, the family decorates their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve with electric lights, tinsel, garlands, candy canes, other assorted ornaments, and topped with an angel figure or star. The tree and Nativity scene remain until Candlemas (February 2), when they are removed."
Didn't Christ begin the Christmas Tree Custom when Thor's Oak was Chopped Down?
Boniface and his sister are celebrated today by Asatru. Saint Boniface, and his sister "Waluberg" or "Walpurgis" were zealous missionaries from England to The Netherlands and to Germany. They preached the destruction of Frisian, Chatti, and Saxon Sacred Groves. They preached forced conversion, and forced baptism. Boniface even chopped down Thor's Oak, the "Irminsul" of the Chatti. Why on earth Asatru celebrates a Walpurgis Night is 100% embarrassing and beyond my comprehension. While Saint Walpurga is not remembered to be as evil as say Hitler and Stalin, she caused major havoc in Heathen countries due to her harsh methods and celebrating her is like Jews having a Hitler Day. Here is my well researched and footnoted article on the origins of Walpurgis Night:
https://www.aldsidu.com/post/asatru-s-most-embarrassing-time-of-the-year Saint Boniface and Saint Walpurgis spend their lives evangelizing the areas of modern Germany and parts of the Netherlands. Boniface knew that the inhabitants of the village of Geismar gathered around a huge old oak tree (known as the “Donnar/Thor Oak”) dedicated to the god Thor. Boniface desired to convert the village by destroying Thor's Oak, so he gathered a few companions and journeyed to Geismar. Christian Medieval legend says that Boniface got an ax, and annoounced that if Thor existed, may he strike him down. When Boniface chopped down the Oak, Thor did nothing, and supposedly the Chatti there bowed down to the power of Christ and accepted baptism. This of course is a farce, as the real truth was that the Franks came with their army, and Boniface with Frankish protection, chopped the oak down after strong resistance. No Heathen would allow a christian with an ax to freely walk into a sacred grove and chop down the holiest tree. Nonetheless, in the 1700's, a legend arose. That the real events of Boniface chopping down the Oak of Thor was that all there saw a pine tree grow in the place of the Oak, and all realized that Christ loved the Christmas Tree, and Christ Hated the Oak of Thor. Many believe this today to be fact, that Christ in the year 723 AD, ordained the Christmas Tree when Boniface chopped down Thor's Oak, and this miracle is proof of the divine reality of the Christmas tree. But this is reality, sticks do not turn into snakes, people do not walk on water, bread doesn't fall from the sky, and people do not rise from the dead. These things do not happen, and a Christmas tree did NOT arise out of the ashes of Thor's Oak. And the Chatti did not decorate Thor's Oak with candles and ornaments anymore than the Saxons 50 kilometers North of Thor's Oak decorate the Irminsul like it was an Xmas tree. It was a Heathen Godpole, and it was outdoors. Anyone studying Germanic Heathen lore, will realize that Ash trees and Oak trees are often mentioned as holy trees in Germanic Heathen folklore. There are no mentions of Heathens venerating Pine Trees or equating them with Odin or Thor. This goes back to a Roman solar tradition that evergreen pine trees are green all year, unlike other trees that turn brown or lose their leaves. The Deus Sol Invictus, the God of the Unconquerable Son, was of course, unable to conquer this tree that remained green all year. Pine and evergreen tree branches were burned in Roman fires on the solstice due to Roman Paganism, an altogether different tradition than Germanic Heathenry. Plus the Romans did not decorate these branches, they burned them. Conclusion: Many people in Asatru did enjoy their christian past with Xmas and Easter. The Solstice and "Ostara" (A Wiccan Sabbat often taught as the start of Scandinavian Summer) have become the Asatru Xmas and Easter. It seems many things from Christianity get continued in Modern Asatru. Who am I to say that anyone who does this is wrong? While I am outside of Asatru and I am in Aldsidu, I do understand the difference between Asatru and Historical Scandinavian Heathenry, and the difference is great. My issue, is that Asatru can teach (and should teach) that if people do new traditions, they should not pass them off as historical ones. The world wide web has more mis-information on it, than accurate information. Going back to historical sources should not be hard. Most wikipedia articles have lists of historical references at the bottom of articles. While many in Asatru rip on wikipedia as being inaccurate, wikipedia is far more accurate than pretty much all Asatru websites. Wikipedia is a good place to get a list of historical sources to get for free online or to buy, and to start good research. I do hope Asatru gains some academic vigor and starts to understand the difference between modern and newer made up stuff, stuff that often was made up in the confines of Christianity, like the Xmas tree, and think before it just passes off things people do today as historically Heathen. Please join us on the Facebook Group "Saxon Heathenry" or in the Association for Historical Heathenry on Facebook. Another good group on Facebook is "Continental Germanic Reconstruction."