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.
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.