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The Much Loved Symbols of Christmas

The captivating symbols of Christmas are as universal as they are charming. Collectively, they signify peace, happiness and a generosity of spirit that has come to be associated with this day that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas is a time of giving, when the human spirit is bathed in the glow of peace and goodwill. Those who celebrate Christmas hang these symbols on a tree that is also decorated with flickering lights, lots of glitter, yards of ribbons and plenty of snow to simulate the season of winter. Many of these symbols stand for wonderfully auspicious sentiments. Here we bring you the meanings that lie behind these symbols, so decorating your Christmas tree becomes an even more meaningful exercise.

The Dove Holding The Olive Branch

The dove has always been a universal symbol of peace, and when it is shown with an olive branch, it also means, “I am asking for forgiveness” or “I surrender”. The meaning behind this symbol is very beautiful because it suggests one taking a posture of humility in the interests of creating peace and goodwill amongst men. The dove is thus a powerful symbol that captures the wonderful spirit of Christmas, which is one of friendship and benevolence.


Poinsettias are native to Mexico. Named after Joel Poinsett, America’s first ambassador to Mexico who brought the plants to America in 1828, the Mexicans thought the plants were symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem. Thus the Poinsettia became associated with the Christmas season. The actual flower of the poinsettia is small and yellow. But surrounding the flower are large, bright red leaves, often mistaken for petals.

The Christmas Tree

Germany in the 16th century. It was common for the Germanic people to decorate fir trees with roses, apples and colored paper. Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, is believed to have been the first to light a Christmas tree with candles. Returning home one dark winter’s night near Christmas, he was struck by the beauty of the starlight shining through the branches of a small fir tree outside his home. He duplicated the starlight by using candles attached to the branches of his indoor Christmas tree. The practice soon caught on and eventually spread to Britain around the 19th century.


It is believed that the mistletoe has always been used to celebrate the coming of winter. This evergreen plant was used to decorate homes, as they were believed to possess special healing powers for everything from female infertility to curing poisons. Scandinavians thought of the mistletoe as a plant of peace and harmony, and they associated it with their goddess of love, Frigga. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe was derived from the belief that kissing under a sprig of this plant would enhance the love between the couple.


Hanging wreaths on doorways is a custom that began in Europe where evergreen branches were used to decorate doorways during Christmas time to invite woodland spirits into the home. They believed the spirits would bring good health and good fortune. Today, people still decorate their houses with evergreen and holly wreaths as a way of welcoming friends and relatives. The circular shape of the wreath signifies the everlasting nature of love: it never ceases, never stops, nor ends. It is one continuous circle of love. Christmas wreaths are usually decorated with bows, bells and other holiday symbols.


Many Christmas trees have a star on the top. Stars are believed to guide the way to special sights and in the old days, many of the star constellations (groups of stars) such as the “Great Bear” and “Little Bear” were worshipped as Gods. Ancient Hebrews used the six-pointed Star of David as a religious symbol, while the five-pointed Christmas star signifies the star that appeared over Bethlehem when Jesus was born. In many cultures, stars are signs of good fortune and for reaching new goals.

The Candy Cane

This sweet is said to remind everyone what Christmas is all about with the colour white symbolizing the purity and sinless nature of Jesus. The three small stripes represent the Holy Trinity. The bold red stripe signifies the blood Jesus shed for mankind. When looked at with the crook on top, it looks like a shepherd’s staff, because Jesus is the shepherd of mankind. Turned upside down, it becomes the letter J, which stands for Jesus’ name. 


In the 18th century, children in Holland would leave clog shoes by the fireplace hearth in the hope that “Sinterclass” would leave gifts for them. Later, the clogs would become stockings, and Sinterclass would become Santa Claus. Today, many people still use the Christmas stocking as a holder of small gifts for children and loved ones.

Santa Claus

Santa Claus is a symbol of joyous celebration and lots of presents. The original Santa Claus was St. Nicholas who was born in the 4th century. He is especially noted for his love of children and big bag of gifts. The modern image of Santa Claus is as a jolly fat man in a red suit, and he reminds the Chinese of Mi Lo Foh, the fat Laughing Buddha.

Yule Log

The custom of burning the yule log originated in Scandinavia, where the people would burn a huge log in honour of their god Thor once a year. After they became Christians, they made the yule log an important part of their Christmas celebrations. Today, many countries in Europe have adopted this custom, and lively ceremonies usually accompany the custom of dragging the great log into the house. It was considered good luck to keep an unburned part of the log to light the next year’s yule log. The unburned part was believed to protect the home from bad luck and misfortune through the year. From a feng shui viewpoint, burning the yule log would create yang fire energy to balance the cold of winter.

The Meaning of Christmas Decorations

  Ornament   Meaning   Ornament  Meaning 
  Angels God’s protection & miracles 16 Grapes Friendship & abundance
02  Apple Good health & peace
  Heart True love & romance
  Bird Happiness & good news
18 House Shelter & support
04 Candles Unselfishness & brightness   Owl Wisdom & intelligence
  Carousel Endless joy & happiness
20 Pine Cone Motherhood & longevity
06 Cat Money luck & to attract affection
  Rabbit Hope & security
  Champagne Celebration & party time  
22 Rose Beauty/Mother Mary
08 Chimney Sweep Good Luck – sweeping away the bad luck   Pig Wealth & plenty of good fortune
  Cow Wishes coming true & a comfortable life
24 Tea or  Coffee Pot Hospitality
10 Dog Faithful friend and ally
Goodwill & presents
  Dove Purity and peace through the year 26 Sheep   Devotion & loyalty
12 Fish Blessings with food all year round
  Snowman Patience & loving energy
  Flower Beauty & good fortune
28 Star God’s Guidance
14 Frog Good luck in business
  Stork Fruitfulness & fertility
  Fruit Generosity & goodwill    
30 Teddy Bear Companionship

The following article is taken from the "Feng Shui World (November/December 2005)". To subscribe, please click here.