As the Christmas season nears, we begin to see Christmas decorations spring up all around us. What is interesting is that while almost everyone is familiar with the symbols that make up much of the Christmas decorating, very few understand what each symbol of Christmas represents.
In this Christmas Symbols section, our goal is to educate you about the story and symbolism behind each of the items that we so frequently use to decorate our houses, yards and Christmas trees. And as you decorate for Christmas this year, we hope that these symbols help you to understand the True Story of Christmas a little better.
The Symbols and Celebration of Christmas:
“Do all to the glory of God.”
The Christmas Tree is a universal symbol of Christmas that has much history behind it. It is said that Martin Luther once looked up to the sky one winter evening while walking in the woods. The stars shining through the branches of the evergreen trees around him inspired him to try to replicate that glorious scene of God’s creation for his children. He cut down as small fir tree and set it up in his home, fastening candles to the branches to represent stars.
The very character of the evergreen tree that is traditionally used as a Christmas tree evokes even more about the God who created it. Keeping its leaves (needles) all year and never losing its green color reminds us of the eternal life that God offers through His son, Jesus Christ. The shape of an evergreen tree is a triangle pointing up to the heavens, where God abides, and the three sided shape reminds us of the triune nature of God.
Atop most Christmas trees we usually see perched there either an angel or a star. Both are very significant parts of the Christmas story which should not be overlooked or ignored.
ANGELS played very important roles at the first Christmas – the event of the birth of Christ. They are the messengers of God to us, and they imparted some very important messages on the night that Christ was born.
It was an angel, Gabriel by name, who announced to Mary that she had found favor with God and that she would bear the Son of God in human flesh (Luke 1:26-33). And an angel spoke to Joseph in a dream to assure him that he should take Mary to be his wife and that the baby which she was carrying was conceived of God (Matt 1:18-21). It was angels that proclaimed the glad tidings to the shepherds on a lonely hillside that quiet night that the Christ-child, the Messiah and Savior of the world, had been born and was come to earth (Luke 2:8-14). And it was an angel who warned Joseph to flee with Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt, that Herod might not find this child who had been born King of the Jews (Matt 2:13-14).
When we see the angels, it reminds us that we too have a message of glad tidings to proclaim: Not only that Christ has come to earth, but that He died for the sins of mankind that all might be reconciled to God. We are now God’s messengers to the earth, just as the angels were on that first Christmas
(Matt2:1-12) God set the STAR in the heavens that shone over Bethlehem on the night of the Savior’s birth, and it was that star that brought the wise men from the east to worship the Christ-child. The star shone its light over the place where Jesus was, so that the wisemen might be led to the Christ. Christians are now given the same special purpose that the Christmas star had: We are to let God’s light shine in the world through us, so that men might be led to Christ.
Piled beneath the Christmas tree, made by God to point upward, lifting its branches toward heaven in praise of its Creator, we find the CHRISTMAS GIFTS. A common and most looked-forward-to tradition of the Christmas season is the giving of gifts. (Matt 2:11)Some say that the tradition commemorates the offering of gifts by the wisemen to Christ–gold, a symbol of royalty; frankincense, a fragrant resin used in worship; and myhrr, a spice used for preparing a body for burial. Three gifts telling the story of the one to which they were presented: Jesus Christ, God in the flesh and worthy of worship and praise, born to die for the sins of mankind, and then raised again to provide salvation for all and rule as King of Kings.
Another reason stated for giving gifts is so that we might remember the first gift of Christmas: a gift bestowed upon us with perfect love from God the Father, the gift of His only begotten Son and the salvation from eternal death that he has offered to each one of us.(John 3:16)
Let us not look forward to the getting of gifts, but to the giving, for that is the substance of true love–GIVING. And may our focus not center on the material gifts of this world, but on the greatest gift that we can share with another person, the gift of life through Christ, the Gospel that has been given to us, not to keep for ourselves, but to share with everyone who will hear it.
The Holly Wreath
Let us move from the Christmas tree to some other symbols of the Christmas season. Consider the WREATH, traditionally made of holly, an evergreen plant bearing small red berries with leaves that have sharp thorns at their points. Holly’s green color signifies the eternal life that we have through Christ, and the thorns remind us of the crown of thorns that was cruelly forced upon His head by the soldiers just before they led him up the hill of Golgotha to be crucified, shedding his blood, red as the berries on the wreath, not for the wrong that He had done, but for our sin. The circle of the wreath, without beginning or end, tells of God’s eternality, everlasting, and the never ending life that He offers to those who will believe.
What about CANDLES that shine in windows and on mantels around the world? As the Gospel of Matthew tells us in chapter 5, Christians are to be the light of the world, as Christ was the Light while He was on the earth. Are they not reminders to us that we should be as lights, set upon the world, shining the glorious light of the Good News for all to see?
Think of the Christmas carols sung by people of all ages, proclaiming the birth of God’s Son, and giving glory and praise to the Father for His love.
The ornaments that hang on the tree were originally an assortment of fruits and foods displayed as examples of God’s provision and bounty.
Candy Canes were crafted by a Christian candy maker to tell the story of Jesus, the Good Shepherd and our Solid Rock, and how he suffered and sacrificed his perfect life, shedding his blood so that we could be saved.
The shape of the candy cane reminds us of a shepherd’s staff and that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Turn it upside down and the letter “J” is a reminder of the first letter of Jesus, Our Good Shepherd. The red stripes on the candy cane signify the blood of Jesus that He shed on the cross as the payment for not His own sin, but the sins of every person past, present and future. And the white candy tells us that if we trust in the blood of Jesus to cleanse our from our sins, that He will wash us white as snow.
Santa Claus is a fictitious character who is the focus of the secular Christmas point of view. The jolly old elf was derived from a real person named St. Nicholas, a bishop, who spent most of his life and fortune giving to people in need anonymously, without ever expecting anything in return. Nicholas had intended to become a monk and spend his life in a monastery. Yet while praying and studying the scriptures, he felt that God was telling him not to hide his life away from other people, but to live an active faith, being a light to others and demonstrating God’s love through service.
He became a symbol of giving, something many people cannot be reputed for. Yet that should be our life’s goal, for giving is just love in action.
Using X-mas instead of Christmas is proclaimed to be the world’s way of taking Christ out of Christmas. Or is it? Actually, X is the symbol for the Greek letter chi, the first letter of Christ’s name. In the early church, Christians frequently used the X or chi to refer to Christ when writing. X also symbolizes the cross upon which Christ died. So X-mas does not take Christ out of Christmas – It is “Christ” in Christmas.
The X was referred to as the “Christ’s Cross”, which eventually was changed to “criss-cross”.
The X (chi) symbol began to be used as a confirmation of assent, a sort of “swearing” on the cross of Christ for confirmation of truth on written documentation – a practice we have carried through to this day, known as “signing on the ‘X’” to verify our affirmation of what is in the document.
Even the word Christmas has meaning. Yes, it is derived from the “Christ Mass” which was performed in the Catholic church. But when you look further, you find that the term “mass” is derived from the Latin word missa, which itself is a form of the Latin word “mittere”, which means, “to send.” Therefore, the word “Christmas” actually means “Christ is sent.” There could not be a more appropriate name for the celebration of Christ’s birth.
We wish your family a very Merry and Blessed Christmas together.