As the season of waiting gives way to the season of fulfillment, let’s explore some of the more familiar symbols of Christmas, especially since many of them have become so secularized that you may not realize their Christian roots.
The Christmas Wreath we hang on our front doors or over a mantle is simply an Advent Wreath without the candles! As it is a circle, a line without a beginning or end, and is comprised of evergreen branches, the Christmas Wreath reminds us of the eternity of God and His everlasting love, and our hope in the everlasting life Jesus came into this world to bring to all of God’s children.
The Christmas Tree is an extension of this symbol. In many cultures, trees are symbols of life itself. The Christmas tree actually recalls the “tree of life” in Genesis, and so it symbolizes the new life Jesus brought into the world at His birth. An evergreen like the Advent Wreath, it continues the symbolism of God’s everlasting love and the everlasting life Jesus brings to us. Adorned with lights and beautiful ornaments to reflect it, the tree further symbolizes Jesus as the Light of the World, whose Word lights the way through the darkness of sin and death to the brightness of everlasting life; a light we are called to live in, follow and reflect to others.
Holly, another evergreen abundant in England and America, also symbolizes eternal life. But the needlelike leaves and blood-red berries remind us of the suffering Jesus was born to endure to bring that life to us.
Children figure prominently in our celebration of Christmas. After all, the Son of God entered the world not in glory, but as we all do: in the simplicity and innocence of an infant. Gifts and treats for children thus became an integral part of the celebration. The spirit of St. Nicholas, the 4th century bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (Turkey), who devoted his life to caring for the poor, especially children, continues to visit the little ones to shower them with gifts, signs of God’s love for all His children in the gift He gave us on that first Christmas, the gift of Himself. In our country, he is known as “Santa Claus” from the way colonial Dutch settlers’ pronounced “Sint Niklas,” which sounded to English settlers like the name with which we have become so familiar. And while he no longer wears the robes of a 4thcentury bishop, his red suit trimmed in white ermine still reflects the office of bishop who wear these ceremonial colors to this day.
Our Christmas gift-giving is an imitation and continuation of that love. It also imitates the generosity of the Magi, the givers of the first Christmas gifts, reminding us that charity is the hallmark of true followers of Jesus. In Italy, Spain and Latin America, gifts are given not on Christmas but on January 6, the traditional date of celebrating the visit of the Magi, or “3 Kings.”
One of the most iconic treats of the season is the candy cane, which originated as a rather delightful method of instruction for the young. Its shape is reminiscent of a shepherd’s crook, the long staff with a hooked end for retrieving sheep that had fallen into wells or ravines. (A bishop’s staff or “crozier” is modeled on it, since a bishop is called to be a “chief shepherd” of God’s “flock.”) Thus the candy “cane” reminds us of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who watches over us, rescues us from evil and leads us to “eternal pasture.” The colors remind us of His purity which we are called to emulate, and the blood He would shed to deliver us from evil. Hold it upside down, and it even forms the letter “J!”
While the colors green and red are most associated with Christmas (and now you know why) white is the official liturgical color. Gold, a symbol of royalty, can also be used during the Masses of the Christmas season, as we proclaim Jesus our “newborn King.”
As you prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth and the coming New Year, may this season be filled with light, joy and peace for you and all your loved ones!
LET’S GO EAGLES, FLYERS & SIXERS!
In His Love,