I originally posted this last year over at my Catholic Warthog blog but thought it would be a good idea to cross post it here at ACNM.
I know that we are still in Advent but the rest of the world is already primed and decked out for Christmas. With that in mind I wanted to republishing a homily that was giving last year by my former pastor Msgr. Mike Sis.
We ALL know about Christmas DECORATIONS.
Year after year, we PULL OUT the boxes, PUT UP the decorations, then TAKE them DOWN, and store them away for NEXT YEAR. (It’s a lot of WORK)
If you’re going to go through all that EFFORT every year, it’s going to be a LOT more MEANINGFUL if you understand the HISTORY and the SYMBOLISM behind those decorations.
Let’s EXPLORE them today.
The Colors Red and Green:
RED symbolizes the BLOOD of Christ, offered in sacrifice for our sins. GREEN is the color of LIFE.
EVERGREENS in the middle of winter give us HOPE that new life will come even after the cold of winter. To a world that was DEAD to sin, Jesus Christ brings NEW LIFE.
The CIRCLE symbolizes the ETERNAL nature of God. You trace the LINE of a circle, and it NEVER ENDS. Jesus Christ is the ETERNAL Son of God, without beginning and without end.
Christmas Tree: This custom comes from Germany. St. Boniface was a Catholic archbishop in Germany in the 8th century. He helped to replace PAGAN practices with CHRISTIAN faith. There was a huge OAK TREE at Geismar, that was considered SACRED by the pagans. It was dedicated to the god Thor. In the year 723 AD, Boniface CHALLENGED that pagan practice, in the presence of HOSTILE tribesmen, and CUT DOWN the oak tree and pointed to a little FIR tree growing next to it, and said: “This humble tree’s wood is used to build your homes: let CHRIST be at the center of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let CHRIST be your constant light. Its branches reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let CHRIST be your Comfort and Guide.”
So when you see a Christmas tree, let its EVERGREEN foliage remind you that the love of God NEVER DIES, and let its SHAPE remind you that HEAVEN is your ultimate goal.
Ornaments on the Tree:
Dec. 24 used to be observed on the Church calendar as the Feast of Adam and Eve. In the Middle Ages, there were religious plays called “Mystery plays”. They told story of Creation and Adam and Eve. A PROP for those plays was a Tree of Paradise: FIR tree with RED APPLES on it. These EVOLVED into our tree ornaments.
It reminds us of the star that guided the Wise Men to where Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
These are native to Mexico and Central America, and they bloom in the short days of winter. The shape of the bloom is like the STAR of Bethlehem. The colors are the traditional Christmas red and green. Flores de Noche Buena – Flowers of the Holy Night: In the Mexican Christmas tradition, a YOUNG GIRL wished to bring a PRESENT to baby Jesus, but had no MONEY. The girl, Pepita, could only pick WEEDS along the road as she went to visit the Christ child. But as she neared the ALTAR in the church to present her Christmas gift, the simple weeds suddenly TRANSFORMED into the vibrant, beautiful Flores de Noche Buena.
Their shape is that of a SHEPHERD’S staff: to guide the sheep. This reminds us of the shepherds who were the first WITNESSES of the birth of Christ. Also: Christ is our Good Shepherd.
The prophet Micah says in today’s First Reading: “He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock.”
COLORS of the Candy Cane:
WHITE: symbolizes the Virgin birth and the purity of Christ, RED: symbolizes the blood of Christ, offered in sacrifice for our sins. STRIPES: remind us of the marks from his SCOURGING in his Passion, like it says in Isaiah 53 and I Peter 2, “By his STRIPES we are healed.”
Prickly, pointed LEAVES: are a reminder of Jesus’ Crown of Thorns Red BERRIES: a reminder of the drops of his BLOOD shed in SACRIFICE for the sins of humanity. The Letter to the Hebrews in today’s Second Reading says: “We have been consecrated through the OFFERING of the BODY of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Symbolize the fact that Christ is the LIGHT of the World. He DISPELS the DARKNESS of sin.
Candles in Windows: Have a specific history in Ireland. During the Penal Times, when the English government ruled Ireland, they took over Catholic churches, tore down Catholic monasteries, made it ILLEGAL to celebrate the Mass. Catholic PRIESTS were expelled from the country, and were subject to instant EXECUTION if they were FOUND. Priests traveled in SECRET, and celebrated the Mass in HOMES at night. At Christmas time, Irish Catholic families would leave their DOOR unlocked and CANDLES in the windows, to signal to the PRIEST that he could come and stay and pray with them.
The English SOLDIERS would ASK about the candles. The Irish people would reply: “They are to let Mary and Joseph know that they can come to stay here at our house.” The soldiers would say, “SILLY Catholics!”
It was invented by St. FRANCIS of Assisi for Midnight Mass in the year 1223, in the little town of Greccio, Italy. They used live ANIMALS, and local PEOPLE took the roles of the people in the Gospel event. It was a very CREATIVE way to MEDITATE on the mystery of Christmas.
So, THIS WEEK, as you sit and look at Christmas decorations, PONDER the MEANING and the HISTORY of all those beautiful CHRISTIAN customs.
They remind us of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, who HUMBLED himself to be born a POOR HUMAN BEING like us, and to LIVE AMONG US,
in order to show us what God is REALLY LIKE, by POURING OUT his life for us,
as a SACRIFICE of LOVE.
By understanding the MEANING of these Christian symbols, you can SHARE them with others, and DRAW HEARTS AND MINDS to Christ.