Christmas Symbols and Origins

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Everything has a meaning, even the symbols of Christmas. Today, most people put up lights and decorations for fun and enjoyment. However, in the past, everything was done for a reason and everything had a story.

Christmas Trees

Christmas trees, wreaths, mistletoe, and hanging evergreens were part of the pagan practices of the holiday season. The tree is the symbol for “immortality,” the wreath is for “eternal sun,” and mistletoe is for “reconciliation.” Many would decorate their homes and places of worship with these items while celebrating the season. Even though Egyptians did not have evergreens, they had palm trees. To them palm trees were the symbol of “immortality,” and they would decorate the home with the branches during the season.

The Christmas tree that is present today, originated in Germany way back in the 16th century. During the winter months, Germans used a “paradise tree” in a play that told the story of Adam and Eve. The only problem was, the tree needed to bear fruit (apple) and there were no apple trees during this time. Therefore, they decided to use a fir tree to hang fruit on during this time. In the 1700s, the tradition came to America by way of German immigrants, but it was not until the 1800s that the tradition of a Christmas tree became very popular.

Wreaths

The hanging of a wreath came from Persia. The wreath was a sign of success. They were not the big, overly decorated wreaths as seen now. They were simply wreaths that could be worn on one’s head as a decoration, or as a way to show off one’s wealth. Some would hang the wreath on a door or a spot in the house, and it is thought the tradition of hanging wreaths may have started due to that practice.

Mistletoe and Holly and Ivy

Mistletoe has become a very popular holiday tradition which began with the Druids before the birth of Christ. Celts would hang mistletoe in their home due to its “healing powers,” infertility, and ability to rid the home of “evil spirits.” The mistletoe also represented peace. However, in Scandinavia, the little plant represented love and was a symbol of their goddess of love. It was thought that a kiss under the mistletoe brought good luck in the coming year.

The use of holly and ivy (and greenery in general) in North Europe, was to protect the home from “evil spirits” who roamed around during the cold months. It was also used to scent the home as well as add some happiness during the winter months. Some belief that holly and ivy represent the crown of thorns placed on the head of Christ, and that they grow where he has walked.

Today, the reason for placing a Christmas tree or greenery in the home has changed drastically. Most use Christmas trees, mistletoe, and wreaths purely for decoration. They are a product of Christmas and used to add color and a touch of magic to the season.

The Christmas Star

On the night of Christ’s birth, one star shone brighter than any other in the sky. For years no one has quite understood why this phenomenon occurred during this time, and this is a reason as to why the date of Christ’s birth is argued. Even so, there is no doubt, the Christmas star represents the star that led the Wise Men and others to the place “where Jesus lay.” For the most part, the Christmas star represents hope and light.

Poinsettas

The tradition of placing this red plant in the home originated in Mexico. Today, the majority of poinsettas in America come from California. The legend is of a boy who needed a gift to give the Christ child. Instead of placing a gift by the manger, he placed green branches. From those branches rose a “star shaped flower.” Now, poinsettas can be seen everywhere during the Christmas season, and is used as a colorful decoration during this time of year.

Santa Claus

The most controversial symbol of the holiday season is, the big fat man in the red suit known as, Santa Claus. Even though, most associate the story of Santa Claus with that of St. Nicolas (a priest and bishop), but the original beginning of a Santa Claus figure can be traced back to Egypt.

The Egyptians had gods and goddesses for almost everything, and there was a god named “Bes.” Bes was said “to be the patron of little children.” Many believed he made toys for all the good children and was said to live at the North Pole. He was a “fat bearded dwarf.” Images of Bes often resemble images of Santa, just dressed a bit differently.

The Santa everyone knows today, became extremely famous in Clement C. Moore’s poem, A Visit From Saint Nicholas. This poem painted Santa as large “jolly old elf,” who gave freely and represented the spirit of Christmas.