"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news
that will cause great joy for all the people."
Luke 2:10

Christmas is one of the most important days of the Church year, second only to Easter itself. Celebrating the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is the culmination of the mystery of the incarnation, the feast of God becoming flesh (the Latin “in carne” means “enfleshment”). It is a uniquely Christian teaching, the Divine choosing to become one of us. Because of this belief, God is not only Transcendent, but also wholly Immanent, Emmanuel (God-with-us). While remaining Transcendent (meaning we must rise above our present condition to reach Him), He is at the same time Immanent (meaning He is with us as we rise toward Him). Every Eucharist is like Christmas where the bread and wine are transformed into His flesh, His Body and Blood, and, in a sense, He is born anew on the altar.

The liturgical season of Christmas begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with him, including the fact that he was born to die for us.

The Christmas tree and the Nativity scene are popular symbols of the season and a tradition in many Christian homes. It is also traditional to exchange Christmas gifts with family and friends to honor God the Father’s gift of his only son to the world. Having received the gift of Christ, we naturally want to pass that gift along to our loved ones.

Christmas is filled with symbols, many of which have lost their Christian symbolism in a secular world. Here you will find the Christian meaning of Christmas symbols.

Let us pray, Lord, the symbolism of Christmas is replete with many secular symbols, all of which point to You. You are the Beginning and the End, the Word made flesh, God in a manger. Help me, Lord, to imitate Your lowliness so that I can serve You well. Amen.

The Date of Christmas

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
The idea to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 originated in the 4th century. The Catholic Church wanted to eclipse the festivities of a rival pagan religion that threatened Christianity’s existence. On Dec. 25, the Romans celebrated the birthday of their sun god. Although it was not popular, or even proper, to celebrate people’s birthdays in those times, church leaders decided that in order to compete with the pagan celebration, they would themselves order a festival in celebration of the birth of Christ. Although the actual season of Jesus’ birth is thought to be the spring, the date of Dec. 25 was chosen as the official birthday celebration to compete head on with the rival pagan celebration.


“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:16).
People often complain that they have taken Christ out of Christmas. But we must remember where Xmas comes from. That abbreviation for Christmas is of Greek origin. The word for Christ in Greek is Xristos. During the 16th century, Europeans began using the first initial of Christ’s name, “X” in place of the word Christ in Christmas as a shorthand form of the word. Although the early Christians understood that “X” stood for Christ’s name, later Christians who did not understand the Greek language mistook “Xmas” as a sign of disrespect. But the Christians were using it in the highest respect, even making an “X” on their graves. We should not be too worried about Xmas. Christ is still there.


Holly is an extremely hardy shrub that can be grown most places, making it one of the few plants that can withstand temperatures from 110 degrees F to – 40 degrees F. Holly plants are noted for their attractive red berries and glossy, sharp-toothed green leaves which remain on the plant year round. The holly bush represents immortality, a trait that God has given to each human being. We are all destined to live forever, either with the Lord or separated from Him. The sharp-toothed edge of the holly leaf 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. The wise men who brought their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to honor the infant King in Bethlehem’s manger have inspired the concept of gift giving 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 Fear of the Lord (Awe of God’s Greatness and Power).



People give fruit baskets as gifts. At the turn of the last century, good children would receive their only orange of the year as a Christmas gift. As a Christmas symbol, fruit recalls the twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit. These Fruits result from the activity of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit are: Charity (Love), Joy, Peace, Patience, Benignity (Kindness), Goodness, Long-Suffering (Patiently Bearing Suffering over a Long Period of Time), Mildness, Faith, Modesty, Continency  (Purity), Chastity.



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 s in love and caused us to be able to love.


In cool climates, many plants are deciduous. That is, they lose their leaves in the fall, remain dead-looking all winter, and begin to sprout new growth in the spring. Evergreens are, broadly speaking, any type of plant that retains its green leaves or needles all year round. 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.

Christmas Tree

“Then shall all the trees of the forest exalt before the Lord, for he comes to rule the earth” (Psalm 96:12). In the early 700’s, Saint Boniface, who converted the German people to Christianity, demolished the Oak of Thor, the mighty sacred tree worshipped by the Saxons. From its roots grew a fir tree which Boniface took as a sign of the Christian faith. About the year 1500, inspired by a snow covered fir tree, a small tree was brought indoors and decorated with candles in honor of Christ’s birth. By the 18thcentury, the custom of decorating a Christmas tree was well established in France, Germany, and Austria. Thus, the Christmas tree represents the original Tree of Paradise, the burning bush which spoke to Moses, the branch of Jesse from which Jesus was born, the life-giving tree of the cross of Christ, and the tree which St. John the Apostle saw in the Book of Revelations whose leaves have medicine for the people and which yields fruit each month for the healing of the nations. Because it is green year-round, the evergreen tree represents hope. Its needles and its narrow crest point upward, turning our thoughts to heaven. Because the tree is cut down and then erected again, it is a symbol of Christ’s resurrection.


Tinsel are the thin, metallic strands that are used in Christmas decorations. A legend tells of a poor, faithful family who wished to decorate a Christmas tree in honor of the Christ Child but who had no money for decorations. In the night, spiders came and spun webs across the tree. Then the Christ Child, honoring the family’s faith, turned the threads into silver.

Candles and Christmas Lights

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


Bells were part of the Jewish high priest’s garb. Christmas bells not only symbolize the joy of Christmas; they also remind us that Christ is the High Priest.

Candy Cane

“The shepherds said to one another: Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15).On that sacred night when Jesus was born, in a stable near the hillsides of Bethlehem, some shepherds were invited by the angel to go and see the newborn Messiah of Israel. After Mary and Joseph, they were the first people on earth to adore this infant savior. Their crooked shepherd staffs have been memorialized in the candy canes which decorate our Christmas trees and fill the stockings of children. The white represents the virgin birth and the sinless nature of Jesus. The red represents his blood and the strips he received when he was beaten at the crucifixion. The candy is hard to represent the solid rock on which the foundation of the church is built. And if you turn it upside down, it forms a “J” to represent the name of Jesus, the savior of the world.

Santa Claus also known as Saint Nicholas

In giving alms do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Keep your deeds of mercy secret” (Matthew 6:3-4).is really Saint Nicholas. He was born in Turkey in the 4th century. “Nicholas” in German is “Klaus,” just as “Santa” is “Saint” in European languages. He was generous

to the poor and always gave gifts secretly, we are told. The Romans held him in contempt and he was imprisoned and tortured. But when Constantine became a Christian he was released.

Saint Nicholas was especially noted for his love of children and his generosity. In imitation of him, anonymous gift-giving at Christmas time began. In his life, Saint Nicholas reflected God’s gift of grace to all. Today, this beautiful tradition has been grossly commercialized. All is not lost however, if we take the time to explain the Christian origin of this great historic figure we call Santa Claus.Santa Claus seems to overshadow the true meaning of Christmas and there’s a sad irony in this since he

Today’s popular image of Santa Clause as a jolly at man in a red suit comes from a poem written in 1822 by Clement C. Moore called “A Visit from St. Nick,” and later published as “The Night Before Christmas.”


Wreaths combine several Christmas symbols including holly, fruit, mistletoe, evergreens, tinsel, and so on, all of which retain their symbolism on the wreath. The word wreath comes from an old English word, meaning to writhe or twist. Greens twisted into a circle made “crowns” for kings, military leaders, and athletes.

Because wreaths, due to their circular shape, symbolize eternity, the circle of life, and endless hope, they began to be used at Christmas and hung. Because a wreath has neither beginning nor end, but is a continuous circle, it symbolized God Himself.

Christmas Cookies, Breads and Pastries

Christmas pastries are made with flour and remind us of the many uses of bread in Scripture. The Jewish people offered cakes made with oil to the Lord. The Israelites took their unleavened loaves with them when they fled Egypt. They recalled this event yearly in the feast of Unleavened Bread. The manna in the desert tasted like wafers made with honey. Elijah performed a miracle in which a widow’s flour did not run out during a time of famine. When David brought the Ark of God back to Jerusalem, he gave each person in Israel a loaf of bread, a cut of meat, and a raisin cake.   Jesus multiplied loaves twice in Scripture and came as the Bread of Life. He comes to us in every Mass under the form of Eucharistic bread and wine. This rich history is present to us with every taste of Christmas pastries.


The tradition of placing gifts into Christmas stockings come from another tradition regarding Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. In this tradition, the three women who needed dowries in order to be kept from a life of prostitution had hung their stockings by the fireplace to dry. When the saint came by to help them, the money that he threw into their house fortuitously landed in the stockings.

Christmas Carols

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!” Song has been a part of worship since the beginning. Miriam composed and sang a hymn of Thanksgiving when God delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians. David sang and danced before the Ark of the Lord when he was accompanying back to Jerusalem after having rescued it from the Philistines. He composed the Psalms, all of which are to be sung. Many of the Psalms mention times when the Jewish people sang, some of which are: bringing in the harvest, going up to the temple, success over one’s enemies. Jesus mentioned funeral songs in one of His exhortations. People use song as an expression of highest emotion. How fitting that we sing about the birth of Christ!


Angels are God’s messengers. They appear several times in Scripture and continue to protect us today as each person has his or her own guardian angel. The angel Gabriel announced the birth of Christ and also told St. Joseph to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt to escape Herod’s plan to kill the Christ Child.

Angels appeared to the shepherds when Christ was born, singing and praising God and instructing the shepherds to hurry to Bethlehem to see the newborn King.

Angels symbolize God’s presence, and remind us of obedience to Him and praise of Him.

The Christmas Candle

I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness, but he shall possess the light of life” (John 8:12).
Candles have long been part of the tradition of the church. At baptism the parents of the child are handed a small white candle and told: “Receive the Light of Christ, may you keep the flame of faith burning brightly in this child who is a new creation.” The candles we burn brightly at Christmas remind us of our own baptism and our own adoption as God’s children. They equally symbolize Christ who is our iight in the darkness. Our prayers symbolically rise to heaven with the smoke from the candles.

The Word Christmas

This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
The word we hear and see often through this season is “Christmas.”

But few people are aware of its origin. It is a combination of two Latin words: Christus and missus. These two words mean: “Christ is sent.” Sent where? Into the world by the loving Father who, like Hallmark, only wishes to give his children the very best – his only Son.

The Nativity Scene

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The first nativity scene was constructed by St. Francis in the year 1223. His nativity, however, consisted of live animals, people and a real baby. However, Jesus was actually born in a cave and the manger (which was a feeding trough) was probably carved from the rock. The French pronunciation of manger means “to eat.” “While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, he broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26).

So our faith is all around us during this season. If you feel that Christmas is too commercial, then look around you and appreciate the season. There is Christ in Christmas everywhere. Some of us simply fail to see it. Christmas can be commercial or it can be spiritual. It is what you make it!

God Became a Baby - Bishop Barron's Sunday Sermon