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Symbols of an
American Christmas


There are many stories about how the first Christmas tree was trimmed. One of that the German preacher, Martin Luther, started the custom. As he was walking home one starry Christmas Eve, he cut down a tree. He took it home and trimmed it in candles. The candles stood for stars. Much later, Germans brought the custom to America.


Hanging stockings goes back to an old legend about Saint Nicholas. The story is that St. Nicholas dropped bags of gold down the chimney for three girls who had no wedding gifts. The bags landed in stockings that were hanging to dry.


The custom of putting candles in windows is an old one. People light them on Christmas Eve as a guide to the Christ child.


In ancient days, some people thought that holly would ward off evil spirits. Christians came to believe that the berries stood for the blood Christ shed. The leaves stood for his crown of thorns. Evergreens stay green all year and bear fruit in the winter. For this reason, they are a symbol of never-ending life.


The first creche, or manger scene, was created by St. Francis of Assisi in 1224. He used live animals and people in his scene. Today, many manger scenes are smaller models made of wood or china or other materials.


Evergreen boughs were used long ago in London as Christmas decorations in the street. Then in Germany they began putting them in the shape of a circle. This represents the love of God which has no beginning or ending.


They wear different clothes and have different names, but they are all Santa Claus in different lands. In America, you know that Santa wears a bright red suit with white fur, a long red cap, and shiny black boots. In England, he wears the very same outfit, but there he is called Father Christmas. In France, he is called Pere Noel, which means Father Christmas. His costume is a bit different from the Father Christmas of England. He wears a long red robe and a white fur hat, and he clatters along in wooden shoes. In Switzerland, you see still another Santa Claus. He wears the clothing of a bishop--a long white robe and a tall, pointed hat. His name is Saint Nicholas.


The custom of bell ringing began as a way to drive away evil spirits. Today bells ring at Christmastime as a symbol of the happy news of Christ's birth.

Back to Christmas at Alphabet Soup