Dec 25, 2021 Consumer Concerns
By Pat Dial,
Kaieteur News – Homes and commercial centres have been colourfully decorated with Christmas symbols and most people admire their beauty but not many are aware of their meanings. Since Christianity and the Christmas Festival have been adopted by many cultures throughout the world over many centuries, various meanings and interpretations have become attached to the same symbol. Though the explanations of the various symbols may differ, their core meanings remain very much the same. In this offering, we will give the meanings and explanations of the symbols which have universal currency and are most common in Guyana.
The word “Christmas” is very often written “Xmas” and many are puzzled as to why it is so written and what the pronunciation should be. Since Christianity was born in the Greco-Roman world, the Greek and Latin languages were used in its early writings. The Greek alphabet letter for “Ch” is “X” so in writing “Christ” in Greek, we begin with “X” and Xmas borrows that ‘X” but it is still pronounced as ‘Christmas’.
The star is used as a decoration, particularly on Christmas trees. It represents the star which led the three Kings or Wise Men (Magi) to the manger in Bethlehem where the Baby Jesus was born. The three Kings brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, each gift having a significance in Jesus’ life. The gold represents Jesus’ kingship and glory and is the origin of the Christmas colour gold. The gifts of the three Kings represent the origin of the gift giving at Christmas. Replicas of the nativity scene with the baby Jesus lying in the manger and the animals standing around were used as a Christmas symbol from the Middle Ages and was introduced by St. Francis of Assissi. It taught the lesson that Man should always help the poor and homeless and show kindness to animals.
Angels are always part of Christmas decorations and represent the angels which descended on the night of Jesus’ birth to celebrate and sing his praises and the shekinah, that is the light which emanated from their bodies, lit up the hills around Bethlehem. The bright lights which illuminate homes, commercial areas and public places at Christmas replicate the heavenly light which suffused Bethlehem at the birth of the Lord Jesus. The bright lights also symbolise the enlightenment, wisdom and salvation to Mankind which Jesus brought.
Santa Claus is the Christmas symbol par excellence. Santa is a symbol for Saint Nicholas, a bishop who lived in the fourth century in Anatolia and whose vestments were red. He was famed for his goodness and especially for his love of children and it was he who made Christmas into a children’s festival. He was believed to be able to levitate and fly, and the tradition of Santa flying through the night skies on Christmas Eve in his sleigh to deliver gifts to children derives from this tradition.
But Saint Nicholas was not only kind to orphans and other children, he was known to help everyone. There was a father who had three daughters who could not have been married since they had no dowries. The girls had washed their stockings and hung them over the fireplace to dry and Saint Nicholas put a ball of gold in each stocking. When they looked at their stockings on Christmas morning, they were elated to find that they had their dowries. The gold balls which are so much a part of Christmas decorations represent Saint Nicholas’ gift.
Most are aware that the Christmas colours are red, blue, green and gold but their meanings are often unclear. Red signifies the blood of Jesus who was crucified to bear the sins of Mankind; Blue is the colour associated with the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother; Green signifies rebirth, growth, prosperity and wellbeing; Gold reminds of the gift of gold presented to Jesus at his birth by one of the three Kings and symbolises Jesus’ majesty and his spiritual kingship over the world.
The Candy Cane is one of the most unusual symbols. It is a confection and traces its origin to the Middle Ages and its colours red represents Jesus’ blood when he bore the sins of the world at his crucifixion and its white represents his purity and nobility. It was enthusiastically revived in America. If it is turned downwards, it forms a ‘J’ representing Jesus.
The silver bell is one of the most popular and ubiquitous of Christmas decorations and symbols and even find their way to the New Year celebrations, though with different connotations. In the Middle Ages, the bells of all the churches would be peeling on Christmas morning to announce the birth of the Lord and to summon the populace to worship and the silver bells recall that custom.
The botanical symbols of Christmas mostly have their origins in the pre-Christian Teutonic and Celtic religions. The Xmas Wreath hung on doors and walls represents the unending love of God for Man with its circular shape without ends and is a talisman bringing good luck, happiness and prosperity. It is also regarded by many as representing the crown of thorns which was placed on Jesus’ head at his crucifixion. This is an example of a symbol from the Greco-Roman religion being co-opted into the Christian religion.
The Teutonic and Celtic peoples lived in the North where the land was covered with snow and ice for several months of the year. No food could be produced, the trees lost their leaves and the landscape was white, covered in snow and ice. This was a time of scarcity and privation. A few trees remained evergreen and these gave colour to the white landscape and brought hope to people that the Sun and plenty would again return. These trees were regarded with reverence and a few of them were regarded as divine and since the Christmas festival fell in winter, these continued to be revered as they had been in pre-Christian times but given Christian symbolisms. The most well-known, the Fir, the Holly and the Mistletoe came to be an essential part of Christmas decorations. Their pre-Christian meanings came to be co-opted into Christian symbolism. The evergreen Fir came to be the Christmas Tree with its conical shaped top pointing to heaven and representing the aspiration of Man. Its evergreen represented the continuation of peace, prosperity and the everlasting nature of the teachings of the Lord Jesus. The tree over the centuries came to be decorated with Christmas symbols of various kinds making it a microcosm of the story of the birth and teachings of the Lord Jesus. The Holly and Mistletoe were equally Christianised – The holly with its thorny leaves and stems came to represent Jesus’ crown of thorns and its red berries his blood while the mistletoe came to represent peace, love and good fortune.
The one universal botanical symbol which derives from the Americas is the Poinsettias. There are two traditions of its origin. The first is that it was discovered in the Caribbean by the 17th century French explorer, De Poincy, and thus named after him. The second is two small Mexican children, Maria and her brother Pedro, badly desired to attend the nativity service but had no money to buy any gift and so with a heavy heart, they carried a green twig from a tree near their home. When they laid down their gift among the others it was regarded with amused contempt by everyone. Then suddenly it began to change into beautiful red petal-like leaves and became the most attractive gift among them all. The American Ambassador to Mexico, Poinsette, brought back the plant to America in 1825 and widely distributed it; it was called Poinsettia after the Ambassador. The symbolic Christian message of the Poinsettia is that if a gift is given with a pure and devoted heart, no matter how poor it may be, it is always transformed into something of value. And secondly, one should not be embarrassed or deterred from helping, no matter how small the assistance may be.
In this offering we addressed Christmas customs and symbolisms which are universally known but there are many which are purely local or confined to the Caribbean region which we will consider elsewhere.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
Jun 24, 2022The Guyana Football Federation (GFF), Georgetown Football Association (GFA) and Alex Bunbury Sports and Academy (ABSAA) will stage the GFF President’s Cup Master’s Super 8 Over-40...
Jun 24, 2022
Jun 24, 2022
Jun 24, 2022
Jun 24, 2022
Jun 24, 2022
Kaieteur News – While walking with my dog, I lost the keys to my car on the Eve Leary beach one evening in last week.... more
Kaieteur News – Guyana passed into law a Local Content Act. Among the aims of the legislation was the prioritising... more
Freedom of speech is our core value at Kaieteur News. If the letter/e-mail you sent was not published, and you believe that its contents were not libellous, let us know, please contact us by phone or email.
Feel free to send us your comments and/or criticisms.
Contact: 624-6456; 225-8452; 225-8458; 225-8463; 225-8465; 225-8473 or 225-8491.
Or by Email: [email protected] / [email protected]