10 Christmas Symbols and Their Significance

The Christmas season has become a favorite time of year for young and old alike. The decorations alone can create a contagious air of joy. You may not know that many of those decorations are also symbols that have a significant tie to the Christian beginnings of the holiday.

10 Christmas Symbols and Their Significance

Christmas has evolved far past its religious origins to the fun and festive holiday we’ve all come to anticipate each December. Here are some facts you may not know about the Christmas symbols that bring us so much joy this time of year.

Nativity scene

This most important Christmas symbol depicts the birth of Jesus, which gave rise to the Christmas celebration. The most basic nativity scene, which is also called a crèche, includes images of the infant Jesus, his mother Mary and Joseph, who was Jesus’ foster father on Earth. Many nativity scenes also show shepherds, animals, angels and the Magi who visited the newborn Jesus to present special gifts, each of whom symbolize messages from the Nativity narrative.

Christmas tree

Evergreens’ leaves don’t fall off each year like most other trees, so this traditional live fir Christmas tree represents eternal life. Also, the shape of the tree points upward, reminding people to look to the heavens for guidance.

Christmas wreath

Pine Pre-Lit Wreath With Clear Lights

Like a Christmas tree, a wreath made from evergreen branches symbolizes everlasting life. The round shape of the wreath also serves as a reminder of God’s constant love for humanity, which is without beginning or end.

Candy cane

Historically, the only definitive symbolic value of the candy cane is its shape, which resembles a shepherd’s crook. Another legend claims that the colors of a traditional candy cane represent Jesus’ life, with white symbolizing his purity and red indicating his sacrifice.


The biblical Gospel of Matthew reports that three wise men identified as Magi followed a star to the stable where Jesus was born. Subsequently, Christians many families put a star atop their Christmas tree, even though they may not know the history of why we do it.


The evergreen leaves of the holly bush symbolize eternal life. The red berries are a reminder of the blood Jesus shed at His crucifixion, and the thorns represent the crown of thorns forced on Jesus’ head before his crucifixion. By symbolizing both eternal life and Jesus’ passion, holly represents the strong connection between Jesus’ incarnation and death.

Santa Claus

Santa Claus is best known today as a jolly fat man in a red suit who brings presents to good boys and girls every Christmas Eve. In reality, Santa Claus was a 4th-century Greek Christian bishop who was canonized a Catholic saint as St. Nicholas of Myra. The legend of Santa Claus developed out of stories about Nicholas helping others by, among other things, secretly leaving money and other necessary goods in needy people’s shoes or on their doorsteps at night.


Like the berries of the holly bush, the red leaves of the poinsettia flower can be seen as symbols of Jesus’ blood. The shape of the poinsettia is also said to be a representation of the Star of Bethlehem that the Magi followed.


5pc Red Bells - Frosted Bells with SnowflakeEven though the ringing church bells for Christmas is not as widespread today as in the past, their joyful tone still gives voice to the emotion of the season, whether it be in the form of an ornament on your Christmas tree, jingle bells hung on your front door to greet guests, or the bell the Salvation Army rings at locations across the country while collecting donations for the needy.


Candles lit at Christmas symbolize the light of Christ.
Whether you have some of these decorations in your home, or just see them when you’re out and about doing your Christmas shopping, now you know a little more about what they mean and why they’re associated with Christmas. Happy holidays!

-Ellen Mady


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