Explaining the Meaning of Christmas Symbols

Christmas ornament decoration
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Have you ever wondered why people hang tinsel on Christmas trees? Or how candy canes became synonymous with the winter holiday? While some holiday decorations may seem arbitrary, many traditional decorations do have a special meaning.

The Meaning of Christmas Symbols

  • The Star: The Christmas star symbolizes the star of Bethlehem which guided the three kings to the baby Jesus. According to the New Testament, Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar brought gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh to the newborn. A star is also the heavenly sign of prophecy fulfilled long ago and the shining hope of humanity.
  • The Color Red: The first color of Christmas, symbolizing that Savior's sacrifice for all and represents the blood of Jesus when he died on the cross. It's reflected in the color of Holly berries.
  • The Fir Tree: Evergreen is the second color of Christmas and shows everlasting light and life. Romans decorated their houses with evergreen branches during the New Year, and the tree symbolized life during the winter. There is also a legend that when Christ was born in the dead of winter, all the trees around the world shook off the snow to reveal new shoots of green.
  • The Bell: Bells are rung during Christmas to proclaim the arrival of the season, and they announce the birth of Christ.
  • The Candle: A mirror of starlight, reflecting our thanks for the star of Bethlehem.
  • The Gift Bow: Ribbon is tied to represent how we should all be tied together in bonds of goodwill.
  • The Candy Cane: This treat represents the shape of a shepherd's crook. It reminds us that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was born on Christmas and used the crook the bring the lost lambs back to the fold. The red stripe represents Christ's sacrifice and the white stands for his purity.
  • The Wreath: A circular, never-ending symbol of eternal love and rebirth. Holly also stands for immortality and cedar for strength. Today the wreath symbolizes generosity, giving and gathering of family.
  • Mistletoe: Mistletoe has no roots of its own. It lives off the tree that it is attached to,

    and without it, the mistletoe would die. The plant is a symbol of man's love which is derived from God.

  • Giving gifts: The wise men who brought their gifts to honor the birth of Jesus inspired the concept of giving gifts during the holiday. God also gives us the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit to follow his direction: wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord.

Tinsel and the "Christmas Spider"

If you've ever noticed a spider decoration on someone's tree, you might have thought they had some odd taste. That's because most people are unaware of the tale of the Christmas spider, and the slightly creepy reason we hang tinsel.

On Christmas Eve, a long time ago, a gentle mother was busily cleaning the house for the most wonderful day of the year, Christmas day, the day on which the little Christ child came to bless the house. Not a speck of dust was left. Even the spiders had been banished from their cozy corner on the ceiling. They had fled to the farthest corner of the attic.

The Christmas tree was beautifully decorated. The poor spiders were frantic, for they could not see the tree, nor be present for the little Christ child's visit. Then the oldest and wisest spider suggested that perhaps they could wait until everyone went to bed and then get a closer look.

When the house was dark and silent, the spiders crept out of their hiding place. When they neared the Christmas tree, they were delighted with the beauty of it. The spiders crept all over the tree, up and down, over the branches and twigs and saw every one of the pretty things.

The spiders loved the Christmas tree. All night long they danced in the branches, leaving them covered with spider webs. In the morning, when the little Christ child came to bless the house, he was dismayed! He loved the little spiders for they were God's creatures, but he knew the mother, who had worked so hard to make everything perfect, would not be pleased when she saw what the spiders had done.

With love in his heart and a smile on his lips, the little Christ child reached out and gently touched the spider webs. The spider webs started to sparkle and shine! They had all turned into sparkling, shimmering silver and gold.

According to legend, ever since this happened, people have hung tinsel on their Christmas trees. It has also become a custom to include a spider among the decorations.