We are all used to hearing the rallying cry of “Keep Christ in Christmas” at this time of year. But what happens on December 26th? What do we do to keep Christ as our center the rest of the year? Do we say “Keep Christ in February 23rd or May 15th or October 9th?
The meaning behind some of the things we do to celebrate Christmas gives us the reason for keeping Christ out of Christmas too!
For example, why do we put up a Christmas tree? The legend begins with St. Boniface in the eighth century who gave the balsam fir tree to the Druids. The Druids worshiped the oak tree as a symbol of the god Thor. St. Boniface chopped down an oak tree to show them that the god Thor had no power.
The legend continues … when the oak was chopped down, there was a small fir tree growing at its base. St. Boniface told the Druids, “This humble tree’s wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the center of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your comfort and your guide.” This beautiful quote helps us keep Christ as our center.
Light is the pre-eminent symbol of Christmas. Christ is the light of the world at all times in all ways.
Laurel was used in wreaths in ancient Roman times, as a symbol of victory and accomplishment. Christians adopted the practice, using wreaths to represent the victory of the newborn King. That victory continues to this day as Christ overcame darkness and sin.
Ivy was originally banned for Christian use because of its pagan associations, but after those pagan connotations were forgotten in the Middle Ages, ivy became seen as a symbol for human reliance on divine strength because of the way it clings to what it grows on. Our faith always gives us something to cling to, even in the worst times of our life.
The prickly leaves and red berries of holly represent the Crown of Thorns with Christ’s Blood, a reminder to us that the Holy Infant was born on this night only to redeem us with His Blood. That redemption is a gift to all of us!
A Mexican legend is that a poor girl wanted to give Baby Jesus something for His birthday, but she only had weeds to give Him. As she laid them near the altar at church, they burst into the beautiful red blooms we know as poinsettias. The shape of the leaves symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, their red color represents the Blood of Christ and the burning love of God. God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. Any gift we offer Him is turned into something amazing.
The legend behind candy canes is that in the late 1800’s a candy maker in Indiana wanted to express the holy meaning of Christmas through a symbol made of candy. He took white peppermint sticks and bent them in the shape of the shepherd’s staff carried by the adoring shepherds, and the letter “J” for Jesus. He let the color white symbolize the purity and sinless nature of Jesus, but added the color red to represent His Blood. The three small stripes symbolize the stripes of His scourging, and the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The bold stripe represents the Blood Jesus shed for mankind.
All of these stories and legends are beautiful representations of our relationship with the divine, but they are useless unless we live the real meaning of Christmas behind the symbols. The meaning of Christmas and God’s everlasting love for us extends well beyond the month of December.
After the tree is down, the candles are extinguished, the holly, wreath and candy canes are all gone, how do we make room for the lonely, the outcast, and the friendless? How do we care for and express the of love of Christ to someone in need? How do we take that Christmas joy and infuse it into every action, every day to every one we meet for the rest of the year?
This year take a few minutes out of your Christmas celebrations to plan ways to keep Christ out of Christmas too! We need him every minute of every day, not just at Christmas time.
Try this simple prayer from St. Patrick each day:
Christ be beside me,
Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me,
King of my heart.
Christ be within me,
Christ be below me,
Christ be above me,
never to part.
Christ on my right hand,
Christ on my left hand,
Christ all around me,
shield in the strife.
Christ in my sleeping,
Christ in my sitting,
Christ in my rising,
light of my life.
Christ be in all hearts thinking about me;
Christ be on all tongues telling of me;
Christ be the vision in eyes that see me;
in ears that hear me, Christ ever be.
Merry Christmas from Compass Catholic Ministries!