The Symbols of Christmas
Posted on Dec 15, 2020 by Shari Van Baale
When we think of Christmas, we think of many things — angels, Christmas trees, hanging lights on our house, bells. Some might think of Santa, though we all know he has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. Do you know why some of these symbols have become a part of our traditions every December?
Angels. We all know the significance of the angels. The angel Gabriel first told Mary she would give birth: “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.’ ” (Luke 1:30-31) The angels told the shepherds to leave their flocks and go see the newborn King: “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields ... Then an angel of the Lord stood before them … ‘I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12) Angels play a big role in Christmas, and when they spoke to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and others in that day, people listened.
Gifts. Why do we exchange gifts at Christmas? I think most of us know that the wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). But we also need to remember the ultimate gift of Christmas, the gift God gave us of his Son.
Star. Many put stars on top of their Christmas trees. The wise men followed the star to Jesus. “They set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.” (Matthew 2:9-10)
The next few symbols are not in the Bible, but they have become associated with Christmas nonetheless.
Bells. Bells are rung to proclaim the birth of Jesus. There are also bells on Santa’s sleigh, and jingle bells. Popular songs with bells are “Christmas Bells are Ringing,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Silver Bells.”
Trees. Whether real or fake, evergreen or pine, trees are an integral part of Christmas. “Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.” (https://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas-trees). I also found in my research that there is widely held belief that Martin Luther was the first to add lights to a Christmas tree.“Some say the first to light a candle atop a Christmas tree was Martin Luther. Legend has it, late one evening around Christmas time, Luther was walking home through the woods when he was struck by the innocent beauty of starlight shining through fir trees. Wanting to share this experience with his family, Martin Luther cut down a fir tree and took it home. He placed a small candle on the branches to symbolize the Christmas sky.” (https://www.zmescience.com/science/history-science/origin-christmas-tree-pagan/)
Holly. The holly plant symbolizes the crown of thorns worn by Jesus, and the berries are said to symbolize his blood. It is interesting that we use this as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. The red and green in holly have also become the main colors we associate with Christmas, as well. To me, it would make more sense to have holly as a symbol for Easter, when he wore the crown of thorns.
Wreath. Christmas wreaths, being circular, are meant to symbolize God’s love having no beginning and no end. There are also Advent wreaths, which hold candles and are not circular in shape.
Candy Cane. I think we have all heard the legend of the candy cane poem. It is often attached with your candy cane gift from friends and family. There are all sorts of symbols in the candy cane: The shape representing shepherds (or a “J” for Jesus), white representing his purity, and red representing his blood.
With all of these symbols, it is important to note that most did not come from the Bible, but were results of popular culture. Even though they may have been around for decades or even centuries, none have origins that date back as far as the original Christmas gift — Jesus.
Shari Van Baale