Top 10 Christmas Symbols
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...
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Celebrate Christmas Traditions in Your Home
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
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
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.
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.
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".
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.