Faith on the Quad Christmas Symbols


Each year, the secular "Christmas Season" seems to begin earlier and earlier, and each year, the focus seems to drift further and further from the birth of Christ. People become caught up in the commercial aspect of Christmas, or in a general sense of well-being and a vague sense of good cheer, while forgetting what we as Christians are actually celebrating.

This year, the "Christmas Season" seemed to start in mid-November. Malls were fully decorated and radio stations were playing non-stop Christmas music well before Thanksgiving. Of course, they completely forgot about Advent, our time of spiritual preparation for the coming of our Lord.

The secular world has tried to completely remove Christ from Christmas, and they have succeeded to a large extent. But what I realized this year is that there are many Christians who are missing out on many of the religious Christmas symbols that permeate our society this time of year. Without even realizing it, the secular world uses many Christian symbols, forgetting their religious origins. However, many Christians have forgotten as well.

I remember learning all about Christmas symbolism in grade school, but it has been years since I actually paused to reflect on the Trinity while eating a candy cane. I had completely forgotten about most of what I had learned when I was younger, but in the last few weeks, I have been paying careful attention as I have watched people prepare for Christmas. I have been trying to remember what I learned back in first grade and identify Christian symbols in seemingly secular practices. Here is what I have found:

Christmas Trees – Probably one of the most common symbols of Christmas, the Christmas Tree is an evergreen. It stands in stark contrast to the dead, brown, leafless trees of winter. It is ever green and ever alive, reminding us that we are created for everlasting life. The tree is often topped with a star or angel, reminding us of the Star of David and the angels that announced the birth of the Lord Jesus.

Gifts – The tradition of exchanging gifts is meant to remind us of the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh offered by the three kings who traveled to visit the Christ Child. It also calls to mind Christ himself, God the Father’s ultimate Gift to mankind.

Wreaths – Like the Christmas Tree, the Wreath is made from an evergreen, symbolizing our everlasting life in Christ. In addition, it is round, a circle with no beginning and no end, reminding us of God, who is eternal, never beginning or ending. Some wreaths, such as Advent wreaths, also include candles. The light from these candles represents Christ, the Light of the World, who comes to illuminate the darkness of our sinful lives.

Candy Canes – The shape of a candy cane is that of a shepherd’s crook, reminding us of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Candy canes are colored white and red, symbolizing the blood shed by Christ and the purity of the grace and new life that He offers us. The candy cane has stripes woven around it, alternating groups of one and three. These remind us of the Holy Trinity – three persons in one God.

Santa Claus – The figure of Santa Claus originated in St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, who was known for his generous and often anonymous almsgiving. St. Nicholas would give money to the most impoverished people in desperate circumstances. Over time, the bishop’s fur-trimmed garments became the outfit of Santa Claus, the anonymous gift-giver whose visit children look forward to each Christmas.

More in Faith on the Quad

Christmas Carols – The singing of Christmas Carols was intended to remind us of the hymns of heavenly praise sung by the angels to announce the birth of Christ. Even some of these seemingly secular hymns have religious meanings. For example, the Twelve Days of Christmas was a song that was secretly used to teach children truths of the Catechism in a time when Christians were being persecuted for their religion. Each day of Christmas taught one important truth of the faith. (For instance, "four calling birds" refer to the four Gospel writers, calling out to the ends of the earth by proclaiming the Good News of salvation.)

Red & Green – The traditional Christmas colors of red and green remind us of Christ and His mission. Red symbolizes the blood He shed for our salvation, and green symbolizes the new and everlasting life He offers us. These colors are found together in Christmas decorations and images such as the holly plant that adorn the Christmas season.

As I spent time looking for meaning in the Christmas preparations around me, I found it much easier to focus on Advent and the approaching birth of Christ. So the next time you see Santa Claus at the mall, sitting under a Christmas tree, surrounded by wreaths and carolers, remember the Reason for the Season. Don’t allow the secular world to take Christ out of Christmas. Instead, let the decorations of the material world quietly remind you of the birth of Christ. If you remember their origins, you can help put the meaning back into the Christian symbols that are being forgotten. Without knowing it, the secular world will be helping you celebrate Christmas, preparing your mind and heart for Christ.



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