It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Along with toys in every store, many of our churches will also be outfitted with Christmas decorations and symbols. We probably don’t think much about the reasons behind each piece, but those symbols can point us to our Savior.
Many of the symbols we see today have origins in secular or even pagan traditions. Communities have been celebrating the changing of the seasons—fall to winter—for centuries. As Christians began to form their own traditions, we took some of the practices and symbols people were already using and saw how they reminded us of truth from Scripture. This happened with many celebrations and is evident in our Christmas decorations and symbols.
Instead of looking at the origins of these traditions, which are often shaky at best, let’s look at how these Christmas motifs point us to Christ. In doing so, we may have opportunities to share the truth with our neighbors, friends, and families this season.
If your neighborhood is anything like mine, the lights go up in mid-November. Eaves are lit with white icicles or red, green, blue, and yellow dots. We shine lights onto wreaths on our doors. We string lights on our mantels and on our trees. We light fires in fireplaces and bask in their light and warmth. In church, we light candles during the Advent season. Many churches end Christmas Eve services with candlelight as well. The Christmas season is characterized by light.
How appropriate is it that when we celebrate the coming of the Light of the World (John 8:12), we do so with literal lights? One of my favorite passages to return to during the Christmas season is one you may hear a lot in the coming weeks—Isaiah 9. Verse 2 says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.” Isaiah was not referring to a physical darkness but a spiritual one. We know what that’s like. We’ve all experienced darkness—emotionally, spiritually, mentally—we live there, here in this broken world.
In the Northern Hemisphere, we celebrate Christmas during the literal darkest month of the year. Even though the verse in Isaiah is talking about a different kind of darkness, the symbol of light in the physical darkness is one that can remind us of Jesus, of the great Light that has dawned on those of us living here in the darkness.
We decorate trees and string up boughs of greenery during Christmas as well. The aroma of fir trees will always make me think of Christmas. We use evergreen trees and plants that bloom in the winter months. We do this for practical reasons—in the Northern Hemisphere, most of our plants are leafless and gray and brown during the Christmas season. The origin of the Christmas tree in particular is highly debated. But evergreens in general have often been said to represent eternal life with Christ for believers.
As we look at the trees that remain green in seasons of gray and brown, we can remember life with Christ and look forward to spending eternity with Him.
A lot of our Christmas carols point to Christmas bells. In churches with bell towers, you can hear the bells announcing Christmas morning. We ring Christmas bells to announce the birth of Christ—much like the angels in Luke 2:10-14.
Bells have been used for centuries in churches to get the word out to the entire community. Located in a tower, they could be heard far and wide. They were used to call the community together—for celebration, for mourning, for prayer, for both sacred and secular reasons. At Christmas, the bells ring to celebrate Jesus’s birth, to communicate to all around the “good news of great joy” that a Savior is born!
While many of our traditions, decorations, and symbols for the Christmas season originated outside of the church, we use them to point toward the truth of Scripture. We point to the Light of the World who came to dwell among us, who died and rose again to save us, and who has gone to prepare a place for us with Him forever. That is the good news of Christmas. Ring the bells!
Elizabeth reads, writes, and argues about the nuances of punctuation. Officially, she’s an Editorial Project Leader at Lifeway. She managed to find a job where she uses both her English undergraduate and her seminary graduate degrees every day. Elizabeth grew up in Nashville, sips chai lattes every chance she can get, and believes everyone should have a “funny picture” pose at the ready. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.