Friday, December 23, 2011

Seven Quick Takes: Christmas Symbolism

The spiked leaves of the holly plant are used at Christmas to represent  Christ's crown of thorns.  Because even as we celebrate His birth, we also remember and celebrate His death, by which we were saved.  

This is also why in art, you tend to see the infant Christ with His arms spread in anticipation of His crucifixion.

2. Christmas colors: Green
 Why do we use evergreens at Christmas?  In our homes we decorate with trees, boughs, garlands, and wreaths.  These undying plants represent eternal life.

3. Christmas colors: Red
Red, as in the berries on the holly plant, or the bows we tie around our wreaths represents Christ's blood, shed for us [and for many, unto the remission of sins -- can't help quoting the Mass here!].

4. Lights
Before electricity, people would place candles on their trees, or a bright flame in each window.  Now we wrap our homes and trees with colorful electric bulbs.  These lights represent Christ, the Light of the World, as well as the bright star which led adorers to the place of his birth.  This is also why a star tree-topper is the most common type.

5. Christmas Bells
I feel like these are a less common decoration than they once were, but Christmas bells are intended to call to mind that church bells that announce Christ's birth, and call us to prayer.

6. Gift-giving
The first people to give gifts at Christmas were the Magi, arriving twelve days after Christ's birth 9Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th0.  For centuries, Christians have imitated this practice.  I have read that in the past, gift-giving was just directed at children.  And they would receive just a few small items - maybe some candy, an orange, perhaps a small toy or coin.  These days, adults have jumped into the gift-giving full-force, and I don't think anyone could argue when I say that it often gets out of control.  People give much more extravagant gifts today than our ancestors would have considered decent.  The consumerism surrounding Christmas is sometimes disgusting, and so opposite of the true meaning of the day.  I know that as soon as I was old enough to suddenly feel an "obligation" to buy gifts for many friends and family members (with my own scant supply of cash), the Advent season took on a definite stressfulness that should really have no place in this time of joyful anticipation.

7. Secular symbols
Santa Claus, reindeer, jingle bells, snowmen, snowflakes....most of these things are tied up with the Santa Claus legend, or the fact that Christmas (in the northern hemisphere at least) falls during the winter.   I don't think there's anything wrong with this side of Christmas, except when it detracts and distracts from the true meaning of why we're celebrating.

See more Quick Takes at Conversion Diary


  1. Santa Claus evolved from the Christian Saint Nicholas. Europeans celebrate St. Nicks Day on Dec 6. I believe that the devil took over and used Santa to distract everyone from our Savior' birth. But it is still fun for the wee ones! Thanks for the info! I am going to incorporate more of that into my decorations!

  2. Your musings for #6 struck a chord with me. I struggle constantly with the whole concept of gift giving. I have come to realize that I am an adult and as an adult I choose not to worry about whether a sibling gave a nicer gift to my parents or not. I am not a bad daughter-in-law/sister-in-law/sister/daughter/wife if I am not the perfect gift giver or even if I do not give a gift at all. Some families have awful relationships with each other, maybe haven’t talked to each other in years. I do not have any grudges or regrets with my family; that in and of itself is a gift. I do not stress my self out with “they gave me a plateful of cookies so I need to give them a plateful of cookies.” They as adults chose to give me a gift. They did not intend to make me feel like I need to reciprocate. So if it is too much for me time wise or money wise I just do not reciprocate.

  3. My sister and I were talking about the gift-giving aspect of Christmas today, as well. It saddens us that we feel so much obligation and stress around the holiday due to "gift expectations," either our own that we have placed upon ourselves, or those of other people. I bought my two year old son a $10 train set... and that is it. At first I felt guilty for not getting him something more, but he has lots of nice toys already, and I know the train set is something he will love. And that is that.

  4. with all that's going on with you and your family, i was really happy to see your quick takes up.



  5. Thinking of you and Sly tonight (Christmas Eve.)

  6. I loved this, thank you. I didnt know a lot of this info before and it is always nice to learn something.