Ten Christmas Symbols and What They Mean

Homes adorned with holly and wreaths…windows aglow with candlelight…poinsettias, candy canes, stars…red and green everywhere you go—all of this can mean only one thing: Christmas is coming! 

We love to decorate our homes, yards, churches, businesses, and even cars with the familiar symbols of Christmas. For many, these symbols evoke happy childhood memories and trigger a sense of wonder and anticipation. When we pause to reflect upon the deeper meaning of the symbols, however, the holiday becomes even more meaningful. So, give yourself an early Christmas present: step aside from the hustle and bustle and take a moment to ponder the real meaning of some popular Christmas symbols.

Bows and Ribbons
Bows and ribbons are symbols of unity. As a bow is tied together and a ribbon is wrapped around a gift, people should be tied together in the bonds of brotherhood and surround each other with love, following the example of Christ, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.


An angel ornament is placed atop many Christmas trees as the final crowning touch. That’s because angels looked down from heaven that first Christmas night and celebrated the birth of Jesus. The shepherds tending their flocks that night heard an angel say, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Christmas Tree

Perhaps the most iconic symbol of Christmas is the tree that adorns so many homes during the Yuletide season. The triangular shape of the evergreen tree points our gaze toward heaven and, because its needles stay green all year long, the evergreen tree symbolizes the eternal life that is found in Christ. 


We hang a star—and if you live in Winston-Salem, maybe it’s a Moravian star—on the front porch, or scatter little ones among the branches of our Christmas tree. We do this because the Magi (the “wise men”) followed a star that went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy(Matthew 2:9).


Bells ring out the joyful news of the Savior’s birth. Many Christmas song lyrics include the word “bells.” A search for “Christmas bells” on the lyrics.com website returns 3,641 lyrics and 60 recording artists! Just to mention a few favorites… “Jingle Bells,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Silver Bells,” “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “Sleigh Ride,” and “Ring Christmas Bells.” (For a real treat, check out the Pentatonix version of Carol of the Bells” on YouTube!)

Candy Cane
A candy cane looks like a shepherd’s staff. The white stripes symbolize the purity of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and the red stripes symbolize the blood He shed on the cross for the salvation of the world. 


Chances are, no matter where you graze or gather this holiday season, you will see beautiful Christmas wreaths. With no beginning and no end, the circular shape of a wreath symbolizes eternal life and God’s never-ending love for mankind.  


The bright red berries and deep green leaves of holly remind us of the reason Christ was born. The thorny leaves remind us of the crown of thorns that mockers placed on his head. The berries represent the blood He shed to give us eternal life, represented by the evergreen leaves (“…everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).


We give gifts at Christmas because the Magi gave gifts to the Christ child: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In ancient times, gold was scarce and valuable, a gift “fit for a king.” Gold symbolizes that Jesus was indeed a king, “the king of the Jews.”  Frankincense, when burned as incense, was associated with worship. The Magi, perhaps comprehending the deity of the Christ child, “fell down and worshipped Him” (Matthew 2:11). Myrrh is a fragrant spice that was included in the mixture used to prepare bodies for burial, as the body of Jesus was prepared after his crucifixion. 


Light always dispels darkness. Christmas lights shining on our porches, in our windows, and on our Christmas trees proclaim that Jesus is the Light of the World who came to rescue us from darkness. He came to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).

This holiday season, whenever you wrap a gift, hang a wreath, light a candle, or enjoy a candy cane, let the deeper meaning of the symbols of Christmas remind you of the reason for the season.



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