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Christmas symbolism

Michele du Plessis

It’s the season to be jolly… Christmas trees decorated with tinsel, shops full of beautifully decorated things that scream buy me, buy me! People shop till they drop, buying presents and “oh! My mother would love this!” exclamations. Prices soar, credit cards are maxed out in one shopping extravaganza and in January when all the spending madness is over and done, we pale when receiving credit card statements. Is this madness worth it all?

Do we ever stop and wonder why are we doing this? Year in and year out, we decorated with red and green and gold. We put ribbons on presents, the candles are lit all over and we place ”the star” right on top of the tree. Cats get bells hung around their necks, dogs get Father Christmas hats, candy canes turn into must-have and wreaths decorate doors and windows. Why are we doing it?

As one generation take over from the previous one, traditions get passed on. “Granny did it this way, Mom did it this way and now we do it this way,” is the way forward. Keep the tradition alive, pass it on to the next generation. Do we explain why we are continuing the traditions?

There is so much symbolism in the traditions that we pass on. While everybody knows that the tree-top star represents the Star of Bethlehem and that the candy cane represents the shepherd’s crook, referencing to the Good Shepherd, how much else do we know about the symbols?

Let’s look at some of the symbols of Christmas…

The colour red is used at Christmas to represent the blood of Jesus when he died on the cross. The colour green signifies everlasting light and life. Bells are rung during Christmas to proclaim the arrival of the season and to announce the birth of Jesus. The wreath is 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 the gathering of family.

The men who brought their gifts to honour the birth of Jesus inspired the concept of giving gifts during the holiday. A ribbon is tied around a gift to represent how people should all be tied together in bonds of unity and goodwill during the holiday season.

Mistletoe is an aerial parasite that has no roots of its own. It lives off the tree to which it attaches itself and, without that tree, it would die. Mistletoe is a Christmas symbol of our love which derives from and exists only because God loves us. God, Who is Love, created us in love and caused us to be able to love.

Santa Claus is a corruption of Saint Nicholas, fourth Bishop of Myra (located in modern Turkey) whose feast day is December 6th. He is also called Saint Nicholas of Bari after his relics were taken to Bari, Italy, in 1087. Saint Nicholas was known for taking to heart Jesus’ words about almsgiving. The bishop’s mitre and fur-trimmed red winter garments were corrupted into Santa’s outfit, while Saint Nicholas’s generosity was transferred to the “jolly old man” who delivers gifts anonymously on Christmas Eve.

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