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Posted: December 24, 2011 12:00 a.m.

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Christmas symbols and their meanings

The Infant Christ is a living symbol of the humility of God who left the glory of heaven to come to earth in poverty and obscurity, showing us that we too are to be little and simple and to give our lives for others.

The sheep followed along behind the shepherds en route to the Nativity of Christ. Jesus called us "sheep" in many of his teachings. We are to follow him, the Good Shepherd, and trust him to lead us to what is good. Sometimes a shepherd has to lead the sheep over rocky ground or through desert wastelands because the green pastures and life giving water are on the other side.

Joseph was turned away by the inns because they were full with guests although most guests only stayed a short time. Jesus wants to come and dwell in our hearts and he wants to make our hearts his home. Many times our lives are so full and busy we can only fit Jesus in sometimes and don't have room or time to host him continuously. A Rule of Life creates permanent space for Christ in our hearts and in our lives and also helps make our souls homes for Christ instead of temporary residences.

The star is a heavenly sign of prophecy fulfilled long ago. It is also a symbol of shining hope for all mankind.
The holly bush represents immorality, a trait given to us all. The sharp toothed edge of the holly leaves reminds Christians of the crown of thorns, with which the soldiers mocked our Lord during his Passion. As a Christmas symbol, the red holly berry represents Christ's blood, shed for all people including those who reject him.

For many people, gifts define Christmas. They focus on the giving and receiving of gifts instead of on our greatest gift, Jesus, who gave himself to us at Christmas. God also gives us the gifts of the Holy Spirit which help us to follow God's direction in our lives. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, piety, fortitude and awe of God's greatness and power.

As a Christmas symbol, fruit recalls the 12 Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, purity and chastity. These fruits result from the activity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Mistletoe is a Christmas symbol of our love which derives from and exists only because God loves us. Mistletoe is a parasite that has no roots and lives off the tree to which it attaches itself and without that tree, it would die.

As Christian Christmas symbols, evergreens symbolize perseverance and resiliency to adversity. They remind us of Jesus' words, "The ones who persevere to the end shall be saved." Our faith must remain vibrant in all spiritual, economic, political and social environments.
Because the Christmas tree is green year round, it is a symbol of hope. Its needles point upwards towards heaven. Because the tree is cut down and then erected again, it is a symbol of Christ's resurrection.

Candles and Christmas lights represent Christ, the Light of the World and also remind us that we are to be light to others, to show them the way to Christ.

Christmas bells not only symbolize the joy of Christmas; they also remind us that Christ is the high priest. Bells ring out to guide lost sheep back to the fold, signifying all that are precious in his eyes.

Candy canes can be viewed as the shepherd's crook used to bring lost lambs back to the fold and also as the letter J for Jesus. The colors of the candy cane are symbolic, too as white symbolizes purity and the sinless nature of Jesus while red is symbolic of the blood Jesus shed for mankind. Candy canes have three stripes which symbolize the Holy Trinity. The stripes also remind of us the pain inflicted upon Jesus before his death on the cross. The peppermint flavor has cleansing and healing properties which came at the price of the Christ's life.

Gingerbread men are symbolic of our mortal bodies. Like the gingerbread man, they are not designed to live forever. God created us for an eternal union with him after we die. Gingerbread men remind us to look beyond ourselves to our creator with whom we will one day be reunited.

Wreaths combine several Christmas symbols including holly, fruit, mistletoe, evergreens and tinsel, all of which retain their symbolism on the wreath. Because wreaths are circular in shape, they symbolize eternity, the circle of life and endless hope.

Christmas cakes, cookies, breads are all made with flour and remind us of the many uses of bread in the scripture. Jesus multiplied loaves twice in scripture and came as the Bread of Life. He comes to us in every Mass or communion under the form of Eucharistic bread and wine.

Snowmen symbolize frozen hearts and spirits that melt when we turn to him. Just as snowmen are images of real people, those whose spirits are frozen against the love of God are images of who they could be.

As snowmen melt in the warmth of the sun and spring, so do our cold hearts when we understand God's love and sacrifice for us.

Christmas carols remind us of the angels who announced the birth of Christ by singing, "Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth!" Many scriptures in Psalms reference times when people sang about bringing in the harvest, going up to the temple, success over one's enemies and at funerals. People use song as an expression of highest emotions.

While Xmas is seen by some as a secular way to "cross Christ out of Christmas," the word is actually an abbreviation for Christmas. Christ was often written as "XP' or "XT" and the Greek letter Chi X stood for Christ in the ancient Greek symbol for Christians.

Red is the color of holly berries and the blood of Christ that Jesus shed on Calvary for our sins. Green is the color of evergreens, grass and vegetation, the source for life and sustenance for animals and humans.

Angels are messengers and also symbolize God's presence and remind us of obedience to him and praise of him. They are also sent to protect us as each person has his or her own guardian angel.

Beth Rowe may be reached at

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