Traditional Christmas Symbols and Their Meanings


Many of the symbols associated with Christmas are derived from the traditional pagan celebrations. The decorating of Christmas trees, the eating of ham, the hanging of wreaths, holly, mistletoe, etc. are all historically pagan practices associated with Yule or winter solace.

So why have we been using these pagan traditions in our Christian celebration?

An old English historical writing helps us understand how this came about.  It contains a letter from Pope Gregory to Saint Mellitus, who was then on his way to England to conduct missionary work among the pagan Anglo-Saxons.

Pope Gregory suggested that converting heathens would go easier if they were allowed to retain the outward forms of their traditional pagan practices and traditions, while reinterpreting those traditions spiritually towards the Christian God instead of to their pagan “devils”: “to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God”.

Enjoy the traditional practices of Christmas.  As Christians let’s not be so different from the world that the world wouldn’t want what we have. Listen to what Pope Gregory said and rather than condemn the pagan traditions, give them Spiritual meaning.  We should try to use these dark traditions to spread the “Light” into the darkness. (John 8:12 Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”)

Search this website for the history of  various objects associated with Christmas and see how to relate them to the birth of Christ.  Just type in the search bar the tradition you wish to learn more about.



Day 23 of Keeping Christ in Christmas – How the Grinch Stole Christmas


Theodor Seuss Geisel was born March 2, 1904 in Springfield, MA. During WW II, Geisel joined the army and was sent to Hollywood. Captain Geisel wrote for Frank Capra’s Signal Corps Unit and won Oscars for Hitler Lives and Design for Death. He also created a cartoon called Gerald McBoing-Boing which also won him an Oscar. In May of 1954, Life published a report concerning illiteracy among school children. The report said that children were having trouble reading because their books were boring. This inspired “Dr. Seuss”, as he became known, to write The Cat in the Hat, using 220 words. In 1960 someone bet him that he couldn’t write an entire book using only fifty words and the result was Green Eggs and Ham.

Dr. Seuss completed How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in 1957. The Grinch, a bitter, cave-dwelling creature with a heart “two sizes too small,” lives on snowy Mount Crumpit, a steep, 3,000 foot high mountaijn just north of Whoville, home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos. His only companion is Max, his faithful dog. From his mountain, the Grinch can hear the noisy Christmas festivities that take place in Whoville. Envious of the Whos’ happiness, he makes plans to descend on the town and steal their Christmas presents and decorations and thus “prevent Christmas from coming”. However, he learns in the end that despite his success in taking all the Christmas things from the Whos, Christmas comes just the same. He then realizes that Christmas is more than just gifts and presents. His heart grows three sizes larger, he returns all the presents and trimmings, and is warmly welcomed into the community of the Whos.

So how do we transform this to make it a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ?

Christmas transcends gifts and trees and stockings and credit card purchases. A Christmas without presents or decorations is still Christmas.  No one can take away the fact that Christmas is God’s awesome statement to the world that He loves us.

We had a Christmas one year that we couldn’t afford presents.  The message in the Grinch was very endearing to us that year…”It came without ribbons! It came without tags!  It came without packages, boxes or bags! Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”  We put that quote on a pack of gum in each of their stockings.  We had them pull it out and Josh read out loud the quote.  Then we had each one pretend they were pulling something out of their stocking and tell us what it was. Then we had somewhat of an old fashioned Christmas as we roasted chestnuts on an open fire, made wassail, and the girls made clove orange pomander balls. We got out old toys, put together puzzles, played board games, and put together every lego model we have ever owned. That year Christmas was different from usual at our house, but we were glad to be together.  And I was glad we had the opportunity to not be distracted by the gifts as we remembered the Reason for Christmas.

There were 3 Christmases that we lost family members but God sent us a song to help us focus on the fact that the coming of the Savior means that ‘man can live forevermore because of Christmas Day’ which means we will see those family members again.

Three years ago we were all together at the hospital for the birth of Henry David on Christmas Day!!  Two years ago we got Ethan Scott a few days before Christmas.

This year we are not all together but we still carry on our family traditions separately as we seek to focus on the coming of Christ.

We have come to realize that Christmas traditions may not always be celebrated like we have always been able to do – situations change.  But we will always be able to celebrate the fact that God never changes and we can never be separated from Him.

Malachi 3:6 “For I am the Lord, I do not change;

Romans 8:38-39 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Make some Grinch-ka-bobs and talk about the lesson we can learn from the Grinch 🙂

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(marshmallows, strawberries, bananas, green grapes)



Day 22 of Keeping Christ in Christmas – It’s a Wonderful Life


Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is, for many, the quintessential American movie, and the perfect holiday film. “Of all the 80 films I’ve made, it’s my favorite,” Jimmy Stewart often said about the movie.  And it is our family’s favorite!! If you have never seen the movie, I whole-heartedly suggest you watch it this Christmas and let it become a part of your Christmas traditions.

At the end of 1945, Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart had both just returned from World War II — and both returned sobered, with a darker view of humanity. Searching for a project to re-establish himself in Hollywood, Capra formed his own production company and optioned a property entitled “The Greatest Gift”: a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, originally written on a Christmas card. This went through multiple rewrites before it became It’s a Wonderful Life.

Just like the main character George Bailey began his life, Capra began the project with the highest of hopes. He had every expectation that the film would be a popular success, and perhaps even sweep the Oscars. But disappointment began the day of its release as generally favorable reviews were not enough to encourage more than mediocre box office returns. And of its five Oscar nominations, it won none, losing the ‘Big Three’— best picture, actor and director — to William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, a film which seemed to capture the spirit of post-war America more closely with its realism than Capra had managed with his fantasy. Capra was crushed.

Yet over the years people continued writing to him about the movie, emphasizing how much it had touched them. Capra wrote in his biography, “I woke up one Christmas morning, and the whole world was watching It’s A Wonderful Life.” Just as George Bailey’s local community came to his rescue when they discovered he was in trouble, so did the community of America rally around the movie, elevating Capra’s forgotten classic to its current status as part of our Christmas ritual.

George Bailey with his frustrations in aspirations to have more, to do more, and to be somebody,  is a mirror of Americans, as we all strive to better our lot. However, even living the most idealist American dream life can somehow leave us unsatisfied. Over half a century later, George Bailey has become a legendary character in 20th century American culture. Through our identification with him and his trials, we can see a reflection of our own wonderful, horrible lives — and maybe gain some insight into true values.

So how do we transform this to make it a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ?

When you watch the movie, realize that only Jesus can make it a wonderful life. John 10:10 I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

Also, just as the movie showed how George Bailey touched so many lives, you were placed here by a sovereign God to touch lives that only you can touch. Always keep in mind that others are observing and being affected by your life.

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
Hebrews 13:2 Don’t forget to be kind to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!

Also worth noting is the fact that George’s prayer in It’s A Wonderful Life is one of the only realistic prayers ever put on film. He’s a man desperate for divine help. “Dear Father in heaven… I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way.”  Isaiah 30:19 God hears us when we cry.


Day 21 of Keeping Christ in Christmas – Christmas Wish List


Whatever our age, we all see Christmas as the time for writing letters to “Santa”, enumerating the things we have been wanting all year. Over the years, Santa has gotten more letters requesting the Red Ryder BB gun and the Easy Bake Oven than any other toys.


The Red Ryder BB Gun is a BB gun made by Daisy Outdoor Products and introduced in 1938, named for the comic strip cowboy character Red Ryder. The BB gun is still in production despite the fact that the comic strip was cancelled in 1963. The Red Ryder BB gun was featured in the popular 1980’s film A Christmas Story, where the main character is desperate to get one, but is constantly thwarted with the warning “You’ll shoot your eye out”. The movie’s fictional BB gun, described as the “Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle BB gun with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time,” does not correspond to any actual production model.

cid_00af01c8438cb566e1406601a8c0dadlaptopAmerica’s first working toy oven, was turquoise and had a carrying handle and fake stove top. It was invented by designers at Kenner Products (now a division of Hasbro). In its first year, 1963, over 500,000 lucky kids talked their parents into spending $15.95. By its fifth birthday, the EASY-BAKE Oven was a household name. In 1965, Hasbro introduced the Kid Dinners for the oven which were mini TV-dinner-like trays partitioned into three sections to hold beef and macaroni, peas and carrots. In 1968, General Mills created very cool miniature boxed versions of its Betty Crocker products for the EASY-BAKE Oven. The oven is still in production 50 years later.

Now it is 2015 and the hot items are Disney Infinity, ipads, and iphones. And Legos still remain very popular. No matter what the item, we all have something we desire.

So how do we transform this to make it a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ?

When you make your wish lists, just remember that all these things will never bring you complete fulfillment. But there is One who is the Desire of all people, whether they know it or not, who will bring fulfillment.

Haggai 2:7 I will shake all the nations, and the One whom all the nations desire will come. Then I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of Armies.

Let your children see your desire and excitement about knowing God, the Creator of the World, who came to live among men and died for our sins!!!! John Piper said in his free, downloadable advent book, Good News of Great Joy, “If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things, how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children.”

Lead your children to think of what Jesus would desire for Christmas.  A great teaching aid is What God Wants For Christmas: An Interactive Nativity for Children (Book and CD)

Our family began years ago making a list of things we wanted to give to Jesus the following year, such as consistency in reading the Bible, encouraging our friends, taking better care of our bodies, learning a new skill, etc.  We wrap up the lists in a pretty package and it is the first present under our tree each year.  We open it at our birthday party for Jesus.  We now call it our Grown-Up Christmas List which becomes our prayer list for the year for each family member.

jesus' christmas list


Day 19 of Keeping Christ in Christmas – Christmas Foods


The Christmas season is not just sights and sounds. What is Christmas without the smells and tastes of Christmas cookies, Christmas ham, egg nog, wassail, candy, and other good things coming out of the kitchen during this season?

The history of Christmas Cookies began with the people of the Persian Empire of the 7th century AD. The actual word ‘cookie’ comes from the Dutch word Koeptje [koekje], meaning small cake or bread. Cookies spread all over Europe by 1500. Gingerbread was probably the first cake/cookie to be traditionally related with Christmas. The people of Sweden preferred Papparkakor (spicy ginger and black-pepper delights), while the Norwegians took to the liking of Krumkake (thin lemon and cardamom-scented wafers).

Our Christmas cookies are my mother’s old-fashioned tea cookies: 3/4 cup crisco, 1 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 1 & 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 2 & 1/2 cup Self-rising flour. Mix all together, roll out, cut into shapes, and bake at 350 for about 12 minutes.  Ice with butter cream frosting: 1 box confectioner sugar, dash of salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 cup milk, 1/3 cup butter.  Making the Christmas cookies is a family tradition that we usually do together each year.

Eggnog is related to various milk and wine punches that had been concocted long ago in the “Old World”. However, in America a new twist was put on the theme. Rum was used in the place of wine. In Colonial America, rum was commonly called “grog”, so the name eggnog is likely derived from the very descriptive term for this drink, “egg-and-grog”, which became egg’n’grog and soon eggnog. Other experts say that the “nog” of eggnog comes from the word “noggin” which was a small, wooden, carved mug. It was used to serve drinks at table in taverns.  The true story might be a mixture of the two and eggnog was originally called “egg and grog in a noggin”.  Whatever the name, it was served to enhance your joy 🙂

Wassail is a hot, spiced punch often associated with winter celebrations of northern Europe, such as Christmas, New Year’s and Twelfth Night. The term itself is a contraction of the Old English toast wæs þu hæl, meaning “be in good health”. A popular Christmas song mentions wassailing, which is groups of people either bearing wassail or begging for it, going from house to house singing and reveling. This is believed to be a custom of helping the poor without placing them in the category of, as a version of the song notes, “daily beggars”. It is also a way of preserving a perishable crop – apples, by turning them into something that can be preserved – cider, which is traditionally a central ingredient for Wassail. Today sugar and ale spiced with ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon are placed in a bowl, heated, and topped with slices of toast.

For our family, we enjoy ‘Christmas punch’: put half a gallon of lime sherbert in a punch bowl and pour a 2 liter of ginger ale over it.  Let the sherbert melt just a little.  It is delicious.

Yule Ham is a traditional dish in Scandinavian and English celebrations. The tradition is often suggested to have began as a tribute to Freyr, a major German god associated with boars and fertility. The boar’s head with apple in mouth was carried into the banquet hall as a sacrifice with the intent of imploring Freyer to show favor in the new year.

Our family enjoys a Christmas smoked ham (without the head!). The recipe is simple: Trim the fat from a smoked ham. Wrap it in tinfoil and cook all night on Christmas Eve at 325 degrees. Next morning as you awake to a delicious smell, mix 3/4 can of coke, a large can of crushed pineapple, and one box of brown sugar. Pour over the ham and cook for one more hour. During the hour, baste often with the juice and sugar as deep into the meat as you can. Yummm!

So how do we transform this to make it a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ?

As you eat the Christmas cookies, remember the time that Jesus gave bread to his disciples as recorded in Mark 14:22, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, “Take, eat: this is my body.” Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life…He will sustain us.

As you drink the eggnog, wassail, or the punch, remember that it is Jesus who will spice up our lives and He is the only source of joy. Remember the verse in Luke 2:10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”

As you eat your Christmas ham, remember that Jesus was the once and for all sacrifice. Hebrews 7:27 He does not need to offer sacrifices every day like the other high priests. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he sacrificed himself on the cross.