The Christmas Symbols

Since it is Christmas time, I thought I would share with you the spiritual meaning behind some of the decorations we enjoy.

First of all, there’s the Christmas tree. Legend has it that Martin Luther was walking home on a dark December evening when he was struck by the beauty of the starlight coming through the branches of the many fir trees in the woods around his home. He was so captivated by the way the filtered light appeared that he felt moved to duplicate this effect on the tree he had placed in his home. He tied a candle holder onto one of the evergreen’s branches, put a candle in the wooden holder, and lit it. Walking to the opposite side of the tree he studied the flickering light. He liked the effect and attached several more candles in the same way. Not only was his family impressed, so were his neighbors. A host of them added candles to their own indoor trees, and the tradition of a lighted tree was born.

Luther taught his friends and family that the tree represented the everlasting love of God. He pointed out that the evergreen’s color did not fade, just as the Lord’s love would not fade, no matter what the circumstance or trial. The candlelight represented the hope that Christ brought to the world through His birth and resurrection. Thus, to those who knew Luther, the tree evolved into a symbol not just of Christmas but of Christian faith in general.

Holly has also become a symbol of the Christian faith. Christians begin using holly as a teaching tool to explain the life and death of Christ. Initially the prickly leaves represented the crown of thorns that had been placed on Jesus’ head on the day of the crucifixion. The plant’s red berries were to remind believers of the blood that the Savior shed on the cross for their sins.

The poinsettia’s original name means “a flower that withers, mortal flower that perishes like all that is pure”. The plant is a fitting representation of the redeeming work of God’s Son. The red represents the blood that was shed on the cross and the green stands for the promise of eternal life offered to us through that sacrifice.

Then there is the candy cane. A persistent legend surrounding the candy cane it tied to Oliver Cromwell’s rule in England, a time when Christmas celebrations were banned by the Puritan leader. It is said that during this short historical period, a dedicated Christian confectioner created a candy cane as a way for Christians to recognize each other on the street. The candy was supposed to be a type of code or signal, like a secret handshake. These canes, decorated with three tiny red stripes (which represented the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and another bold, thick red stripe that demonstrated the redemptive power of Christ’s blood, were given out to those who professed Christ as their Savior.

Another man in the 1920’s in Albany, GA made candy canes which symbolized for him the Trinity and the redeeming blood of Christ. The hook of the cane symbolized a shepherd’s staff and the white, the purity of Christ. He said also if you turned the hook upside down it appeared as the letter J standing for Jesus. However you see it, this too is a symbol of our faith.

Then there is the wreath. In early Christianity there were not many hotels and most Christians could not afford to stay in them. When they traveled from town to town they were in need of a place to lodge overnight. Christians would put wreaths on their doors to indicate a Christian lived there. This meant that people were welcome to knock on the door for lodging. The wreath was a symbol of eternal life. So when we place a wreath on our door, it is a symbol of eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ died to give to us.

Mistletoe…In ancient times mistletoe was viewed with awe. It was considered a miracle plant. During the harshest days of winter’s fury, when most everything else had died, this small, flowering, seemingly rootless plant thrived in the treetops. It offered beauty and color, life and hope, mystery and wonder.

Even before the time of Christ, the early Greeks and Celts believed mistletoe was sacred. They taught that only God’s powerful touch could bring a new plant out of winter’s dead wood and nourish that plant during the year’s most brutal days. For this reason, people of many different faiths have considered mistletoe a sacred and noble gift that represents life, hope and security. Many Christians even believed it was the key to understanding God and His purpose for humankind. They claimed that if you understood how mistletoe grew, why it survived and thrived each winter season, as well as how it spread you would understand the Lord and your relationship with Him. Thus mistletoe not only symbolized faith, it also came to stand for a love that would not die.

Every time you see these symbols I hope it will remind you of God’s great love for us through the Lord Jesus not only at Christmastime but all year long.

See you Sunday.