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Top 10 Christmas Symbols

Updated on December 12, 2012

Christmas Symbols, History and Traditions

Christmas is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world. It is a celebration of love, joy and unity; symbolized by familiar images that are designed to conjure up warm feelings of home, family, the spirit of peace, new beginnings and a giving spirit.

But, did you know that a number of traditions, we now associate so closely with Christmas, actually have their roots in pre-Christian, pagan religious traditions? Here are ten common Christmas icons, their origins and the myths behind them...

Picture: www.StampinBuddies.com; Images Below: vintageholidaycrafts.com

Wreaths of Holly and Berries

Crown of Thorns

- Druids once believed that holly, with its shiny leaves and red berries stayed green in Winter to keep the earth beautiful when the rest of the sacred trees lost all their leaves.

- Early Celts surrounded their entryways with branches of Holly to ward off evil and to bring luck to the home, because fairies were thought to sleep within the warm leaves.

- Holly was the sacred plant of Saturn and was used at the Roman Saturnalia festival to honor him. Romans gave one another holly wreaths and carried them about decorating images of Saturn with it.

- The prickly thorns in Holly remind Christians of Jesus' "Crown of Thorns" and the red berries have come to symbolize the blood he shed for us at his crucifixion.

The Star Atop The Tree

That Which Shines in The Darkness

The original Nautical Star, or North Star, was seen as providing guidance, and good luck for sailors.

- In Germany and in Amish lore, the 5-Pointed Star provides protection from fire and lightning or a protection for livestock, good fortune, hope, love, fertility, energy and harmony. The Eight-Pointed Star symbolizes goodwill, good omens, light and protection. The Triple Star represents good luck, success and happiness.

- Before becoming a prominent symbol of Judaism, the six pointed star was used by alchemists and was said to have been used by Druid priests as protection against evil ghosts.

- In the Old Testament, the starry sky symbolized the numerous children of Abraham, and gave direction to the promised land.

- In Christianity, the Star of Bethlehem guided the three wise men and announced the birth of Christ. Eventually, stars were placed on the tops of Christmas Trees to celebrate His birth.

The Tree of Life and The Origin of The Christmas Tree - 5000 Years of History

When the Fathers of the Christian Church in AD 340 decided upon an exact date to celebrate Christ's birth event, they wisely chose the day of the Pagan Winter Solstice, which was already firmly fixed in the minds of the people.

Pagans had considered the "World Tree" or the "Tree of Life" as a representative of life and their universe for thousands of years. It was only natural to continue to use a tree as a symbol for the birth and re-birth of Christ.

In the early seventeenth century, Germans began bringing these trees indoors at Christmas and decorating them with candles.

The end result is that today we see these trees all over the world, used in a festive spirit of peace and joy, and still place a star or an Angel over the top, much as the Ancients did over 5000 years ago.

"Winter Sparkle" Sterling Silver, Marcasite Christmas Tree Brooch - by Judith Jack

The Poinsettia

Mexico's Miracle Flower

Mexico's legend of the Poinsettia tells of a poor Mexican girl Maria and her little brother Pablo who were disappointed they had no money to buy a present for baby Jesus at the annual Mexican Christmas festival.

- On Christmas eve Maria and Pablo stopped to pick some weeds, for baby Jesus. As they placed the weeds around the Manger, the green leaves miraculously turned into bright red petals.

Soon the Manger was surrounded by beautiful star-shaped flowers, we love to see during the holidays.

The Ringing of The Bells

Drive out Evil

-Bells were rung at pagan winter celebrations. It was thought that evil spirits could be driven out by loud noises, and bells often accompanied singing and shouting.

- Bells are mentioned in the Old Testament as being used on the robes of the high priest.

- During the Middle ages bells were rung with increasing frequency until midnight, to warn the devil of the approaching birth of the Christ Child.

Santa Claus (St. Nicholas)

Patron Saint of Children

The original Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, was born in 4th century Turkey. He was a devoted Christian. He was known for his generosity and for his love of children.

- He is the patron saint of sailors and children.

- In 16th century Holland, Dutch children would place their wooden shoes by the hearth in hopes that they would be filled with a treat.

-In 1822, Clement C. Moore composed his famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," which was later published as "The Night Before Christmas."

Burning of A Yule Log

Good Luck and Light

In early days, fire was a symbol of home, safety and warmth. The English took on the custom of burning the yule log on Christmas Eve.

It is adorned with soft, red ribbons and glitter. Traditionally, the log should burn for one whole night, smolder for twelve days (twelve days of Christmas; signifying the twelve months of the year) and then be put out ceremoniously. It was considered good luck to sit on it before it was burned and it was bad luck if the fire went out quickly. After the holidays had ended a piece of the log was saved to rekindle the next year's log.

The Yule Log also symbolizes the light coming back to conquer darkness.

Mistletoe and the Kissing Ball

Health and Luck

- The vines and berries of mistletoe were sacred to the ancient Druids who used them in their sacrifices to the gods as well as to celebrate the winter solstice.

- The mistletoe, which was also believed to have miraculous healing powers, was placed over doorways to ward off evil and bestow health, happiness, and good luck.

- In eighteenth century England, kissing balls were made of evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments with sprigs of mistletoe tied to the bottoms of the balls.

- Because embraces of welcome occurred at doorways, the custom evolved into balls of greens and berries hung at entrances.

Christmas Mistletoe Ornament

Glittery Kissing Krystal Cardinal Christmas Mistletoe on Acrylic Prism Ornament
Glittery Kissing Krystal Cardinal Christmas Mistletoe on Acrylic Prism Ornament

Features a Sprig of Glittery-Dusted Mistletoe with Red Berries and a Cardinal Figure atop a Faceted Acrylic Crystal Ornament. The ornament is in the shape of an upside down Diamond. The Legend holds that Kissing under the Mistletoe is an old European tradition. It is believed that peace, strength, health, fertility and love will be granted to all who kiss beneath it.

 

Tinsel

Ribbons of Silver

There is a little known legend associated with these decorative thin silver metallic foil strips.

- The legend tells of two parents who trimmed a tree while their children were sleeping. When some curious spiders came to see the tree, they left sticky cobwebs all over it.

When the Christ Child came to bless the tree he turned the cobwebs to sparkling ribbons of silver.

Candles

Shelter and Light

- Ancient Romans lit candles to ward off evil, and to convince the sun to shine again.

- Candles were often placed in windows during the Christmas season as a sign to those passing by that shelter and warmth could be found within.

- On the Advent Wreath, a candle is lit each week to remind us of the coming of Christ, who is "the light of the world".


Candy Canes

The Shepherd's Staff

The most obvious symbolism used in the candy cane is its shape.

- Turned one way, it looks like a "J" for Jesus.

- Turned the other way, candy canes remind us of the shepherd's staff.

- Some say the 3 small stripes honor the Holy Trinity, while the larger stripe reminds us of the One True God.

What is Your Favorite Holiday Tradition?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Great site! Five *****, favourite, and lensroll to my christmas lens.

      Good work!

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 8 years ago from USA

      Don't get discouraged! Keep building great lenses and they will come!

    • piedromolinero profile image

      piedromolinero 8 years ago

      A very nice lens about Christmas traditions. Welcome to the Christmas decorations group.

    • WhiteOak50 profile image

      WhiteOak50 8 years ago

      Thank you so much for adding this to the Pagan Path Group! Great Lens!!

    • HealthfulMD profile image

      Kirsti A. Dyer 8 years ago from Northern California

      Great job. Thank you for adding this to the Spirit of the Season Challenge. A very fitting topic.

    • profile image

      HomeTowne_Market 8 years ago

      Very informative lens, I learned some things I had not known before. Thank you for sharing!

    • michelledurakis profile image

      michelledurakis 8 years ago

      Great lens 5* , My favorite christmas tradition is making all those yummmy cookies.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 8 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Mostly, I just like the tradition of having my family together. Nice lens!

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 8 years ago

      Good luck on the Christmas contest - another great lens *****

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I love that I always learn new things on Squidoo! My favorite holiday tradition is always the special times I share with my husband and my absolutely yummy Christmas dinner - Kathy

    • profile image

      tdove 8 years ago

      Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!

    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 8 years ago from Covington, LA

      Thanks for lensrolling Natural Christmas Wreaths. I have lensrolled Top 10 Christmas Symbols back to it.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 8 years ago from Royalton

      My favorite part of Christmas is getting together with family and friends. I have always loved singing Christmas carols and remembering the way we made pies with my grandmother.

    • thepartyanimal2 profile image

      thepartyanimal2 8 years ago

      Yahoo you are a winner in The Squidoo Home for The Holidays Lens Contest So Go Grab your badge.

    • greenerme profile image

      greenerme 8 years ago

      Nice work! Lensrolling to my real vs fake Christmas trees lens. Where did this Christmas season go?

    • Aquavel profile image

      Aquavel 8 years ago

      This is such a beautiful lens in all aspects!!! Wonderful information, beautiful pictures and layout too! 5*s!

    • Mortira profile image

      Mortira 7 years ago

      Welcome to the Four Seasons group!

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 7 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      Wonderful Lens on Christmas Symbols and nicely illustrated! Happy Holidays!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 7 years ago

      I'm featuring your lens on my Squid Angel Diary this week!

    • lasertek lm profile image

      lasertek lm 7 years ago

      This is a very nice lens! I never knew that the candy cane carries a symbolism and that the tinsel embraces a myth. I thought these items were mere decorations that brighten the Christmas tree. 5*

      Merry Christmas! Hope you could visit my lenses and be a fan of my fb page. Thanks

    • imolaK profile image

      imolaK 6 years ago

      I enjoyed reading your wonderful lens about Christmas symbols

    • Spook LM profile image

      Spook LM 6 years ago

      Merry Christmas and many thanks for your blessing. For some reason my comment wouldn't take on your bio page.

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Well crafted lens on Christmas symbols and their meaning. Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas holiday season. **Blessed by a Squid-Angel**

    • jdwheeler profile image

      jdwheeler 6 years ago

      This is a very informative lens. I can now impress friends and relatives at this years' Christmas parties!

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image

      squid-pinkchic18 6 years ago

      Wonderful lens! This is great information you have :) Blessed by a SquidAngel

    • profile image

      poutine 5 years ago

      I like the legend of the tinsel.

    • krakensquid profile image

      krakensquid 5 years ago

      Wonderful Christmas lens!

    • SherVacik profile image

      SherVacik 5 years ago

      What a lovely holiday-themed lens! You included some new legends I've not heard of before, including the spider webs turned to tinsel.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 5 years ago from USA

      Learned a bit here. Many of these stories we new to me.

    • profile image

      CatherineMezensky 5 years ago

      Nice lens! I nominated it for the lens of Christmas day quest.

    • monarch13 profile image
      Author

      monarch13 5 years ago

      @CatherineMezensky: Thank you I'm honored!

    • patsydoo profile image

      patsydoo 5 years ago

      Very informative, love all the little graphics/banners between each section.

    • profile image

      LasgalenArts 5 years ago

      We are Pagans and we do use a Yule log each year. Also included in our home is a tree to decorate and Santa Clause. The beauty of this holiday is you can mix and match to suit your needs.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Nice lens, great information.

    • profile image

      moonlitta 5 years ago

      I am delighted to say I also nominated your lens as a Christmas Lens of the day!:)

    • monarch13 profile image
      Author

      monarch13 5 years ago

      @moonlitta: thank you and Happy Holidays!

    • viscri8 profile image

      viscri8 5 years ago

      Very cheering lens about the Christmas symbols -- may the bring joy and the spirit of Christmas to all! Blessed!

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      We like to wear socks with bells attached to the cuffs so we can jingle.

    • RomanaSwan profile image

      RomanaSwan 5 years ago

      Very interesting! Learned something new!

    • iamraincrystal profile image

      Rosyel Sawali 4 years ago from Manila Philippines

      My favorite is the New Year's! ^_^

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Too hard to pick just one Christmas symbol or tradition as a favorite! *blessed*

    • Scraps2treasures profile image

      Scraps2treasures 4 years ago

      I loved reading about the origins of all our favorite Christmas traditions. Blessed.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 4 years ago

      Beautifully done lens and wonderful information...thanks for sharing!

      ~d-artist Squid Angel Blessing~

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