Teach the Children: the meanings behind the symbols of Christmas

Teach the Children: the meanings behind the symbols of Christmas


When you think of Christmas, what comes to mind? Is it Christ? Is it the decorations and festivities? Candy canes, Christmas lights, bells and fir trees; those are just a few things that I think of when I hear the word Christmas. Of course if you ask kids, they will likely say “Santa” and “presents”. As a parent, I want to make sure that my kids have an understanding of what Christmas means; that it is not just about Santa and presents, although they do play a role. There are many symbols of Christmas, but what do all of these things represent?

When I was a young girl, probably 12 or 13 years old, I was asked to give a talk in front of the whole congregation at Church. My topic was simple enough; being that it was December, I was asked to speak about Christmas. My mom helped me to find a beautiful story that explained all of the symbols of Christmas and the meaning behind each one. That story has stuck with me ever since, so much that I tell it every year to my own children as a reminder of why we celebrate. My hope is that whenever they see a candy cane or beautiful lights on houses and Christmas trees, that they will remember what it all represents.

In our family, we gather together on Monday nights and hold what we call “Family Home Evening”. It is a program that was started in our church, encouraging families to connect at least once a week to discuss gospel principles and/or other “lessons” that may be relevant (for example, we might feel one week that we need to address the topic of being kind, or reaching out to friends who might be lonely, etc). We usually have a fun activity or game following our little lesson and of course, we end with a treat. Dessert is the best way to reach a kid, am I right? It’s really a nice way for us to stay connected with another, make memories and reinforce our values with our children.

Last night, for our Family Home Evening, we gathered around the Christmas tree as I shared this story once again. I have found that visual aids really help to capture their attention rather than just reading straight from a paper. The kids were very engaged and at the end of the story we did a review on what each object symbolized; they were all eager to answer the pop quiz! I am sharing the story with you today, along with a short list of visual aids that would be helpful in telling the story.

I would love to hear of your success with sharing this story with your children! Feel free to comment below!

Visual aids to tell the story:

  • Sack or small toy box (to put visual aids in)
  • Star
  • Red Christmas tree ornament
  • Small Christmas tree
  • Bell
  • Candle
  • Bow (or a gift with a bow on top)
  • Candy cane
  • Holly wreath

Teach The Children

Just a week before Christmas, I had a visitor.  This is how it happened.  I had just finished the household chores for the night and was preparing to go to bed when I heard a noise in the front of the house.  I opened the door of the front room, and to my surprise, Santa Claus himself stepped out from behind the Christmas tree.  He placed his fingers over my mouth so I would not cry out.

“What are you doing…..” I started to ask but the words choked in my throat as I saw he had tears in his eyes.  His usual jolly manner was gone…gone was the eager, boisterous soul we all know.

He then answered me with a simple statement of “TEACH THE CHILDREN.”  I was puzzled.  What did he mean?  He anticipated my question and with one quick movement brought forth a miniature toy boy from behind the tree.  As I stood there bewildered, Santa said again, “TEACH THE CHILDREN.  Teach them the old meaning of Christmas–the meaning that Christmas now has forgotten.”

I started to say,  “How can I….” when Santa reached into the toy bag and pulled out a brilliant shiny star.

“Teach the children the star was the heavenly sign of promise long ages ago.  God promised a savior for the world and the star was a sign of the fulfillment of that promise.  The countless shining stars at night–one for each man–now show the burning hope of all mankind.”  Santa gently laid the star upon the fireplace mantle and drew forth from the bag a glittering red Christmas tree ornament.

“Teach the children red is the first color of Christmas.  It was first used by the faithful people to remind them of the blood which was shed for all the people by the Savior.  Christ gave His life and shed his blood that every man might have God’s gift of Eternal Life.  Red is deep, intense, vivid–it is the greatest color of all.  It is the symbol of the gift of God.”

“Teach the children,” he said as he dislodged a small Christmas tree from the depths of the toy bag.  He placed it before the mantle and gently hung the red ornament on it.  The deep green of the fir tree was a perfect background for the ornament.  Here was the second color of Christmas.

“The pure green color of the stately fir tree remains green all year round,” he said.  “This depicts the everlasting hope of mankind.  Green is the youthful, hopeful, abundant color of nature.  All the needles point heavenward–symbols of Man’s returning thought toward heaven.  The great green tree has been man’s best friend.  It has sheltered him, warmed him, made beauty for him.”  Suddenly I heard a soft tinkling sound.

“Teach the children that as the lost sheep are found by the sound of the bell, it should ring for man to return to the fold–it means guidance and return, it further signifies that all are precious in the eyes of the Lord.  As the soft sound of the bell faded into the night, Santa drew forth a candle.  He placed it on the mantle and the soft glow from its tiny flame cast a glow about the darkened room.  Odd shapes in shadows slowly danced and weaved upon the walls.

“Teach the children,” whispered Santa, “that the candle shows man’s thanks for the star of long ago.  Its small light is the mirror of starlight.  At first candles were placed on the trees–they were like many glowing stars shining against the dark green.  The colored lights have now taken over in remembrance.”

Santa turned the small Christmas tree lights on and picked up a gift from under the tree.  He pointed to the large bow and said, “A bow is placed on a present to remind us of the spirit of the brotherhood of man.  We should remember that the bow is tied as men should be tied, all of us together, with the bonds of good will toward each other.  Good will forever is the message of the bow.”

Santa slung his bag over his shoulder and began to reach for the candy cane placed high on the tree.  He unfastened it and reached out toward me with it.

“Teach the children that the candy cane represents the shepherd’s crook.  The crook of the staff helps bring back the strayed sheep to the flock.  The candy cane represents the helping hand we should show at Christmas time.  The candy cane is the symbol that we are our brothers’ keepers.”

As Santa looked about the room a feeling of satisfaction shone on his face.  He read wonderment in my eyes, and I am sure he sensed my admiration for this night.

He reached into his bag and brought forth a large holly wreath.  He placed it on the door and said, “Please teach the children the wreath symbolizes the eternal nature of love; it never ceases, stops or ends.  It is one continuous round of affection.  The wreath does double duty.  It is made of many things and in many colors.  It should remind us of all the things of Christmas.  Please teach the children.”

I pondered and wondered and thrilled at all those symbols.  To give, to help, to love, and to serve…and Santa, he’s the sign of giving…that jolly old elf…and yes, I shall teach the children.

Get the printable version HERE.

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