I was Christmas shopping last week and overheard a family argue about a specific gift purchase. The mother had both of her kids select and try on gym shoes because their current pairs were worn out. The kids were thrilled to have new shoes, but their faces dropped when their mom took the new shoes from their hands. She said that they’d have to wait until they opened their gifts on Christmas morning before they could wear them.
That night I walked the decorated downtown streets where I live and thought about whether their mom did the right thing – Holding back the needed shoes until Christmas Day. I wondered if she had missed the Spirit of Christmas or had determined to do something symbolic with her gifts that would help instill the Spirit of Christmas into her kids for life.
It made me contemplate if I still understood the real meaning of Christmas or if the numerous symbols of the season had faded from my memory. For instance, most of the decorations I saw on my walk were green and red.
If I remember history, Egyptians would bring green palm branches into their houses during the winter festivals. In the Roman Empire, people would exchange evergreen branches during the winter as a sign of good luck.
These common practices took on a new twist when Europeans, during the Middle Ages, put on Paradise plays, which were typically performed on Christmas Eve. These plays included the reading of Bible stories for those who couldn’t read. The Paradise Tree used in the play was a pine tree with red apples hanging on it. The evergreen represented eternal life and the red apples represented the fall of man. The color red also symbolized the blood of Christ and man’s salvation, which is why St. Nick wore red.
The color white at Christmas represents purity and peace in western cultures. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything more peaceful than standing outside on a cold, moon lit night in a freshly fallen snow.
Blue is also a significant Christmas color because it’s associated with the Virgin Mary who gave birth to the baby Jesus. Some say that blue is symbolic of heaven on earth, but during medieval times blue dye was more expensive than gold and only worn by royal families and the rich. Therefore the culture of that day used it to signify Mary’s importance by dressing her in blue.
After shopping, I headed to my car and saw the mother giving the kids their shoes. She shared her concern that they’d be disappointed on Christmas morning because she couldn’t afford to purchase any additional gifts. It was her hope that her act of love through gift giving on Christmas morning would remind them of the greatest gift that God had given man.
While the kids assured their mom that they were mature enough to handle it, I realized that creating, remembering and maintaining symbols of the holiday would help me keep focused on sharing with others what I have freely received – Faith, hope and love.