I’m sure there are a few readers out there who will “Bah Humbug” this post because it’s past Christmas Day. I’m a firm believer that Christmas is a “season” not a “day,” so I’m gonna’ roll with it! –lol– Have you ever wondered about Christmas decorations — how they came to be traditions and whether they have symbolic meanings?
In fact, many of our customary frills-of-the-season have come down through the generations. They are rich in symbolism. Today, we’re going to talk about six common items that many families use to decorate for the holidays. When we have a better understanding of where our customs come from and what their origins of meaning happen to be, it’s easier to focus on “the reason for the season.”
Is holly one of your favorite Christmas decorations?
As it turns out, the practice of hanging sprigs of holly to decorate for Christmas is rich in symbolism. The holly bush itself, which grows all year ’round, symbolizes immortality. Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are immortal beings. While our life on earth will inevitably pass away, our souls live forever! Christians believe that the gift of eternal life comes with a choice. We can choose to spend eternity with God in heaven or to be separated from Him for all time.
Holly decorations help us to be mindful of this gift — of immortality. If you handle holly the wrong way, the pointy edges will jab you. These edges are symbolic of the crown of thorns that the Savior took upon His head when He entered into His Passion and death. The red berries on the holly plant remind us of the blood He shed to save us.
Mistletoe Christmas decorations remind us of God’s love
Mistletoe has quite a complex history. You can read about it, here. It is actually (scientifically/botanically) considered a parasite. This is because it doesn’t put its own roots into soil to grow. It sort of “latches” on to other types of trees and grows on top of their branches. It also draws nutrients out of their systems, even if they’re in a dormant stage in winter.
Long ago, a Nordic myth held that if two foes were to come face to face in the forest under a mistletoe, they were to make peace for an entire day and night. Many years later, Norwegians developed the “kissing” tradition with which most of us are familiar, although it was slightly different back then. (As you will learn if you read the interesting article I just linked to in the previous section.)
A more modern, Christian symbolism for using mistletoe as Christmas decorations is simply that it serves as a reminder that “God is love.” We exist because God “loved” us into being. He created us out of love and holds us in existence by His love. We are capable of loving only because God, Who IS love, loves us, which enables us to love one another. Mistletoe is a reminder that Christmas is all about love.
Tinsel has its origins in the spider’s web
A legend is a story that is passed down through the ages. It might part or entirely true, or it might be part or entirely false. There’s a legend about tinsel and why we use it to decorate for Christmas. It’s a beautiful little story about a poor family who lived long ago. As the story goes, they wanted to decorate a tree to honor the Infant Jesus for Christmas. They had no money to buy decorations. However, when nightfall came, it is said that spiders worked their way through the branches of the tree, spinning exquisite silken webs all over it. The legend says that the Christ Child was honored by the humble family’s faith and gave them a gift by turning the spider webs into sparkling threads of silver. Voila! Tinsel!
Whether or not the Savior actually performed such a miracle all those years ago, it’s a sweet story that led to a wonderful tradition. Do you still hang tinsel on your Christmas tree?
Speaking of Christmas trees, this tradition represents the Tree of Life
In the 700s, a man named Boniface is said to have demolished the “Oak of Thor” tree. The Saxon people in Germany worshiped the tree. After Boniface struck down the tree to denounce false gods, a fir tree began to grow up and out of the mangled roots of the oak. Boniface lauded the tree as a symbol of Christian faith. Many hundreds of years later, someone decided to cut down a fir tree at Christmas and bring it indoors to decorate with candles to honor the birth of Christ.
By the 18th century, several countries practiced the tradition of the Christmas tree. The evergreen reminds us of the Tree of Life in Paradise. It is also symbolic of the burning bush from which Moses heard the voice of God, as well as the “branch” of “Jesse’s tree,” from which Jesus Christ descended. Finally, the Christmas tree reminds us of the cross on which Jesus gave His life for our sake and of John the Apostle’s vision of a tree that bears fruit to heal the nations.
Cutting down a tree then standing it back up symbolizes the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb!
Have you noticed that a candy cane is shaped like a shepherd’s staff?
Jesus is called, “The Good Shepherd.” Most families use candy canes to decorate or to fill children’s stockings on Christmas. Some people even hang them on their Christmas trees. The hard, red-and-white-striped candy is shaped like a shepherd’s staff. The red reminds of the sacrifice Jesus made when He lay down His life for us. The white color symbolizes purity. The Indiana candy maker who invented the candy cane used white to remind us of the Virgin birth. You can read all about it, here, as well as find a printable where you can print out the story of the candy cane to share with others. Keep it in mind for next year, it makes a great stocking stuffer!
Jesus is the Light of the World, so we decorate with candles and lights
There are several symbolic meanings behind the use of candles and lights at Christmas. Jesus came to shine light into a darkened world. The lights and candles we decorate with should also remind us that we, as His followers, are to be a Light to others. We are to bear the light of Truth throughout the world.
An ancient tradition using candles, particularly when they are set on a window sill, is to symbolize that we are innkeepers who are eager and willing to give the Holy Family shelter in our homes. We want Jesus and Mary and Joseph to abide with us. Spiritually, we never want to turn God away. We always want there to be “room in our inns.” Placing a lit candle in a window at Christmas is a way of saying that we’re inviting Jesus and His holy family into our hearts.
This practice was also used during times of persecution. Christians would set a candle in the window as a way to identify their households as followers of Christ to other Christians.
What are your favorite decorations at Christmas?
So many different cultures and countries have unique traditions when it comes to Christmas decorations. Telling these stories to your children and grand-children, and carrying on the same customs from year to year forges a bond between generations. Do you have story to tell about a particular decorating tradition your family enjoys or the symbolism behind a decoration that was not included in our list today? Leave a comment under this post on our Facebook page to tell us about it!