As a parent and a follower of Jesus, I am always looking for ways to refocus my kids’ Christmas paradigm back on Christ amidst the chaos and frivolity of the holiday season. It’s easy to get caught up in the fervor of presents, parties and eggnog and forget the whole reason we are celebrating to begin with.

Fortunately, Christmas is steeped with Christian symbolism, and around every corner are opportunities to find Jesus and share stories of the gift of our savior. Here are some of the Christmas symbols you can use as reminders of the true meaning of this holiday.

1. Candy Canes

The next time you hand out candy canes, share this story with your children. In 1670, the Cologne Cathedral in Germany hosted a live nativity scene as a Christmas presentation. Since living nativity scenes involve real animals and are generally noisy and stinky affairs, the choirmaster, not surprisingly, struggled to keep the kids from talking too much. So he devised a plan to engage their mouths, giving them hard candy sticks. But to add significance to the small indulgence, the choirmaster requested that the local candy maker curve the simple white candy sticks into the form of a shepherd’s staff.

The structure and shape of a shepherd’s crook is purposely designed to hook around the neck to both protect the sheep from harm and lead them to greener pastures. Legend has it that the choirmaster’s idea caught on, and the tradition of passing out candy canes at living nativity scenes was borne and spread throughout Europe. The candy cane is an enjoyable treat with a powerful illustration of God’s care for his people.

Jesus reminds us, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (NIV John 10:11)

So hang the treats on the tree and cheerfully hand them out along with a story of the good shepherd and what he means to us as followers of Christ.

2. Gifts

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reminded my kids before the frenzy of opening presents commences, “Now, who is the greatest gift and why are we celebrating?”

“We know, Mom; Jesus is the gift.” (Insert exasperation from child.) Sound familiar?

Next time, tell the kids this little nugget. The tradition of offering gifts initiated with the European celebration of St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. In the 4th century, St. Nicholas held the role of Archbishop of Myra and faced terrible persecution for his faith. St. Nicholas inherited a fortune after the untimely death of his parents at a young age, and spent most of his life quietly and anonymously giving it away.

After his death on December 6th, stories were passed down regarding his benevolence and generosity. By the 12th century, the act of giving gifts anonymously caught on throughout Europe in honor of his goodwill.

While many countries in Europe still celebrate St. Nicholas Day, in the United States, the celebration of this day was merged with Christmas. As the two holidays closely resemble one another, it was a natural union since Christmas represents God’s gift to the world and the Wise Men also offered gifts to the baby Jesus.

Our modern-day Santa Claus is actually a symbol of St. Nicholas, who was renowned for his unselfish generosity and example of biblical giving. Proverbs 18:6 states, “A gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great.” And Although Hollywood has morphed Santa Claus into a jolly old man with flying reindeer and magic, the true compassion and giving nature of St. Nick, a true servant of Christ, needs to be shared and modeled to our children. In our home, we have a beautiful storybook explaining who the real man was behind the red suit and his love for Jesus and eternal life in Christ.

3. Mistletoe

Ever wonder why you get to sneak a kiss under the mistletoe? This endearing Christmas tradition involves hanging a small clipping of mistletoe greenery resplendent with berries above a doorway or walkway and when two people stand under the mistletoe, at the same time, they are supposed to offer one another a kiss of affection. Now, I adore any excuse to kiss my loved ones, but I never really knew where the ritual originated from.

Upon researching, I discovered mistletoe is actually an aerial parasite with no roots of its own. It’s terribly unglamorous. The parasite gloms onto the tree to which it attaches itself and, without that tree, it dies. Hmmm, this story sounds familiar … very similar to our relationship with Christ. And this is exactly where the metaphor takes root.

Mistletoe symbolizes the love we are able to offer to others only because of Christ who “first loves us.” (1 John 4:19) And yes, we are the parasites.

Just as mistletoe may not recognize the tree which gives it life, humanity may not acknowledge the enduring love of God that sustains them. But if mistletoe is removed from the tree, or any person becomes devoid of God’s love, both cease to live.

As far as the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, this practice began in ancient Greece during the festival of Saturnalia, and later moved into in the marriage union because of the plant’s association with fertility. Under the Roman reign, enemies at war would reconcile their differences under the berried plant as a symbol of peace.

This year, tell your kids about the true meaning of mistletoe. Be sure to let them know that the corresponding kiss is a symbol of peace, romance and the love of a Heavenly Father who we need to rely on in order to find abundant life.

This season is rich with Christian meaning if you know where to look. What are you favorite Christmas symbols?

You may also be interested in Finding Quiet Time For Reflection During The Busy Holiday Season

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