Anti-Catholics who oppose Christmas think they can strike a deathblow to the Christmas season with a verse taken from the prophet Jeremiah:
Thus saith the Lord: Learn not according to the ways of the Gentiles. . . . For the laws of the people are vain: for the works of the hand of the workman hath cut a tree out of the forest with an axe. He hath decked it with silver and gold: he hath put it together with nails and hammers, that it may not fall asunder. They are framed after the likeness of a palm tree, and shall not speak: they must be carried to be removed, because they cannot go. Therefore fear them not, for they can neither do evil nor good. There is none like to thee, O Lord: thou art great, and great is thy name in might. Who shall not fear thee, O king of nations? for thine is the glory: among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms there is none like unto thee. They shall be all proved together to be senseless and foolish: the doctrine of their vanity is wood. Silver spread into plates is brought from Tharsis, and gold from Ophaz: the work of the artificer, and of the hand of the coppersmith: violet and purple is their clothing: all these things are the work of artificers. But the Lord is the true God: he is the living God, and the everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his threatening. Thus then shall you say to them: The gods that have not made heaven and earth, let them perish from the earth, and from among those places that are under heaven. He that maketh the earth by his power, that prepareth the world by his wisdom, and stretcheth out the heavens by his knowledge. At his voice he giveth a multitude of waters in the heaven, and lifteth up the clouds from the ends of the earth: he maketh lightnings for rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures. Every man is become a fool for knowledge, every artist is confounded in his graven idol: for what he hath cast is false, and there is no spirit in them.
This passage, the anti-Catholic asserts, is condemning the use of Christmas trees! Now, admittedly, at first it might really look like this. But here it is very helpful to know some background, and to examine the passage very closely. There are five important points that must be taken into account here:
The word translated as "workman" is not the same as a "lumberjack." Instead, the original Hebrew word here, charash, means "carpenter" or "craftsman." That is what is meant by "workman." Now, whereas lumberjacks go into the forest to cut down trees, carpenters don't. Rather, carpenters make things (figurines, tools, etc.) out of wood. Thus, Jeremiah 10:3 speaks of carpenters who make wooden idols. "Later in this passage," adds Ralph Woodrow, "the 'workman' is portrayed as plating an idol with silver and gold--clearly not a lumberjack!" (Christmas Reconsidered, 46). The point that the "workman" in question is not a lumberjack but someone who would take wood and make idols out of it is further proven in a parallel passage in Isaiah 40:19-20: "Hath the workman cast a graven statue? or hath the goldsmith formed it with gold, or the silversmith with plates of silver? He hath chosen strong wood, and that will not rot: the skilful workman seeketh how he may set up an idol that may not be moved"; and again in Hosea 8:6: "A workman made it, and it is no god [but an idol]." To equate "workman" with "lumberjack," then, would be unbiblical and eisegetical--it would be a misrepresentation of what the actual biblical text says. Other Bible translations render "workman" as "craftsman" or the like.
The passage talks about the tool of the workman being an "ax." Now, this is not the kind of tool that we would call an "ax" now. What is now called an "ax" is the Hebrew word garzen, which is used throughout the Bible when what we now call an "ax" is meant (e.g. in Deuteronomy 19:5). However, the word used in Jeremiah 10:3 is not garzen but maatsad. Other Bible translations render maatsad as "cutting tool" (NASB), "adze" (NAB), "chisel" (NIV), and "blade" (NJB). One thing is clear: it's not an ax in the contemporary sense of the word. What is meant is a tool used to carve pieces of wood, the kind of tool a carpenter uses. Hence, once again, the "workman" is not a lumberjack but a carpenter.
Verse 5 of the passage says: "They are framed after the likeness of a palm tree. . . ." This can hardly refer to a Christmas tree! Even if having Christmas trees is a practice that Christians have adopted from paganism, this passage is certainly not talking about it! No one fashions a Christmas tree "after the likeness of a palm tree"--not even those in Florida do that! ;-)
There is more evidence that St. Jeremiah wasn't condemning Christmas trees. Let me quote from Woodrow directly: "Jeremiah spoke against worshipping an idol made from a tree, not the tree itself. Though the workman could make the idol look like a living, walking, talking being, yet it was lifeless. [...] If Jeremiah was speaking of a Christmas tree--no one expects a Christmas tree to talk! These idols apparently had legs, yet could not walk. They must be carried, 'because they cannot go' (Jer. 10:5). Had Jeremiah been speaking of a Christmas tree, his whole argument would break down: everyone realizes that a Christmas tree must be carried--no one supposes a Christmas tree should walk" (Christmas Reconsidered, 47-48).
Verse 9 speaks about the idols being clothed in "violet and purple." Again, this is obviously not referring to a Christmas tree, or any tree for that matter, but the idols carved out of the wood from the trees in the forest. They were made to look like men--clothed, and with feet and hands and eyes and mouths, though they can neither speak nor see, nor walk or talk (cf. Psalm 115:4-8 [Psalm 113:4-8 Douay-Rheims]). The great prophet Isaiah proves that this analysis of Jeremiah 10:9 is correct: "The makers of idols are all of them nothing, and their best beloved things shall not profit them. [...] The carpenter hath stretched out his rule, he hath formed it with a plane: he hath made it with corners, and hath fashioned it round with the compass: and he hath made the image of a man as it were a beautiful man dwelling in a house. He hath cut down cedars, taken the holm, and the oak that stood among the trees of the forest: he hath planted the pine tree, which the rain hath nourished. And it hath served men for fuel: he took thereof, and warmed himself: and he kindled it, and baked bread: but of the rest he made a god, and adored it: he made a graven thing, and bowed down before it" (Isaiah 44:9,13-15).
All of this evidence should give the anti-Catholic pause. Jeremiah described idol worship, not tree worship. And it is absurd to suggest anyway that Christians who have a decorated a tree for Christmas are in any way worshipping that tree. It's as absurd as it is false. I have yet to meet someone who worships a Christmas tree. Besides, when the Christmas season is over, Christmas trees are discarded--burned or otherwise disposed of. As Ralph Woodrow aptly notes, this is "not something people would do with an object of worship" (Christmas Reconsidered, 49). Moreover, if a Christmas tree presented an occasion of sin for Christians because they would be tempted to worship it, as the SDA claim seems to go, then any trees would do so, not just Christmas trees, and one would have to cut down all trees throughout the world in order to keep people from falling into idolatry. Certainly, this is absurd.
Obviously, trees are not evil. Nothing God has made is evil. In fact, if you want to give your anti-Catholic acquaintance one last knockout concerning his anti-Christmas behavior, read to him
Isaiah 60:13: "The glory of Libanus shall come to thee, the fir tree, and the box tree, and the pine tree together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary: and I will glorify the place of my feet." Here fir and pine (box) trees are used to embellish the sanctuary of the one and only True God!