With January 6th, the Epiphany, coming up, I thought I would share some of the Christmas legends behind some time honored traditional symbols of the Christmas season.
The Legend of the Candy Cane
According to legend there was a candy maker who wanted to invent a candy that was a witness to Christ.
First of all, he used a hard candy because Christ is the rock of ages. This hard candy was shaped so that it would resemble a “J” for Jesus or, turned upside down, a shepherd’s staff. He made it white to represent the purity of Christ.
Finally a red stripe was added to represent the blood Christ shed for the sins of the world, and three thinner red stripes for the stripes He received on our behalf when the Roman soldiers whipped Him. Sometimes a green stripe is added as a reminder that Jesus is a gift from God.
The flavor of the cane is peppermint, which is similar to hyssop. Hyssop is in the mint family and was used in the Old Testament for purification and sacrifice. Jesus is the pure Lamb of God, come to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
So, every time you see a candy cane, remember the message of the candy maker: Jesus is the Christ!
Another Legend of the Candy Cane
The development of the candy cane took a few hundred years. Before the invention of the modern pacifier, parents gave their babies unflavored white sugar sticks to suck on. During the 1670’s, a German choirmaster had the sugar sticks bent into a shepherd’s staff and passed them out to children attending the Christmas services. This holiday custom spread throughout Europe, and fancy canes, decorated with roses, were used as Christmas decorations in many homes. About 1900, the white candy cane received its traditional red stripes and peppermint flavoring. At the same time the legend of the candy cane came into being. According to this legend, a candy maker in Indiana designed the candy cane to tell the true story of Christmas - a story about a virgin giving birth to a Shepherd who would give up His life for the sheep.
The most obvious symbolism used in the candy cane is its shape. Turned one way, it looks like a “J” for Jesus. The newborn Lamb of God was named Jesus, meaning Savior, because He was destined to “save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Turned the other way, candy canes remind us of the shepherd’s staff. The first people to hear of Christ’s birth were shepherds guarding their flocks at night (Lk 2:8-20). Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. The Bible frequently compares the actions of the Messiah to those of a shepherd searching for his lost sheep, feeding them, gently leading them, and carrying them in his bosom (Ps 23; Jn 10:1-18; Is 40:11; Jer 31:10; Micah 5:4; Heb 13:20). The sweetness of the candy reminds us that we are fed on the sweet milk of the Gospel of our salvation and peace (Eph 1:13; 6:15).
The hardness of the candy reminds us that Jesus is our rock of refuge (Deu 32:4, 15, 18; 1 Sam 2:2; 2 Sam 22:32, 47; 23:3; Psa 18:2, 31; 28:1; 92:15; 94:22; 95:1; Is 44:8). In rocky lands like Israel, people often sought shelter from their enemies in the caves or rocky crags of cliffs. Rocks also remind us of the solidness of the promises of Christ who is a precious cornerstone and sure foundation to those who follow Him, but a “stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” to those who reject His gift of peace (1 Pet 2:6-8).
The whiteness of the candy brings to mind the Virgin Birth and the sinless life of Christ (Mt 1:23; Lk 1:34-35). We also are made as pure as the snow through the cleansing action of His blood (Rev 7:9, 14; Is 1:18).
The traditional candy cane has 3 small red stripes to remind us of the soldiers’ stripes by which we are healed and a larger stripe which represents the blood shed by Christ on Calvary’s tree (Is 53:5; Mt 27:32-50). Some people say that the 3 small stripes honor the Holy Trinity while the larger stripe reminds us of the one true God. Others claim that the small stripes represent our mini-passions or sufferings and the great stripe symbolizes Christ’s Passion. A green stripe is sometimes placed on candy canes to remind us that Jesus is God’s gift to us. (Green is the color of giving.)
The peppermint flavor of modern candy canes is said to be similar to hyssop. In Old Testament times, hyssop was associated with purification and sacrifice. During the first Passover celebrations, a bundle of hyssop was used to smear the blood of Passover lambs upon the doorposts of houses so that the Angel of Death would pass over their occupants (Ex 12:22). Bundles of hyssop were also used to sprinkle blood on worshipers and objects during Mosaic purification rituals (Ex 24:6-8; Lev 14:4, 49-52). After his affair with Bathsheba, King David appealed to God’s mercy crying, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps 51:7). Peppermint reminds us that Jesus is our Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7). His blood cleanses us from sin and destroys the power of death (Hosea 13:14; 1 Cor 15:54-57; Heb 2:14-15; Rev 20:6).
Except where otherwise indicated all scripture quotes are from the NKJV.
Legend of the Christmas Candle
The practice of placing candles in windows in December probably originated in pre-Christian times as part of winter solstice celebrations. However the legend recounted below demonstrated how Christians reinterpreted these candles to represent the light and peace of Christ.
Many years ago an old cobbler and his wife lived in a little village in Austria. Although very poor, whatever they owned they shared with others. Each night they placed a lighted candle in the window of their cottage.. a sign of hospitality to any traveler needing shelter.Through the years this little village was plagued with war and famine. Yet as though some mysterious charm guarded them, the cobbler and his wife suffered far less than their neighbors.One evening, on the night before Christmas, the villagers gathered to discuss their plight. “There is something special about the cobbler and his wife. They are always spared our misfortunes. What do they do that we do not? Let us put a candle in our windows too,” said one villager, “perhaps that is the charm.”That night a candle was lighted in the window of every home, and lo, before the sun rose, a messenger brought great news to the village. Peace had come! The villagers gave thanks to God for this blessing of Peace and vowed to always light candles on Christmas Eve.This beautiful custom spread throughout the world and each Christmas millions of candles light up our world with their message of love, and everlasting joy.
Light is very special to Jesus. In fact, Jesus is often called the Light of the World. Light of the World means Jesus was like a light or a lit candle. If you think about a birthday cake, one candle is able to light many candles from just one flame. When we call Jesus the Light of the World it means Christ’s love works like a candle flame. From one flame many other candles can be lit. Each new light can light many others. Jesus loves you and shares his light and his love with you and with all other Christians. If you pass that light on to others, they can pass it on to even more people, and so on. Jesus is like the first candle who gives out light to all the rest.
When people call Jesus the Light of the World they also mean that He was the bright light that helped people see the right way to live. In a world that was filled with confusion and sadness, Jesus came like a shining light to bring help and hope to all people.
We can receive that light and guidance from Jesus and pass it along to others, too. The Christmas lights that people put up during Advent can remind us that people spread Jesus’ love and light here on earth. Jesus gives his love and light to us and we can pass it on to others in little ways. We can be the light that brightens another person’s day by helping them, listening to and being there for them or by simply offering a smile.
The First Christmas Tree
by Timothy Southall
The first Christmas tree was not an evergreen. The tree was tall, had two branches and was lean. It was not brought home on top of a car, They dragged it down Calvary Road, which made it far. It was not decorated with tinsel of silver or gold. On it was a sign declaring Him the King of His fold. We place ornaments on our Christmas tree. With Jesus, it left scars than even Thomas could see. Bright lights shine on Christmas morning. Back then it got dark, and there was mourning. We place a star on top to adorn. A star shone brightly when Jesus was born. The gifts for our families lay around the tree. The disciples gathered around asking, “How could this be?” For our children, it brings toys and maybe a game. His tree brought Jesus suffering and shame. So when you decorate your Christmas tree, Think of the One who made all the prophecies come to be. His Gift was not a toy truck, a wagon or doll. On His tree, Jesus gave His life, the greatest Gift of all.
Legend of the Robin (Christmas Version)
As Jesus lay in the manger, the robin saw the fire needed to stay lit to keep the baby Jesus warm. The little bird flew down to the fire and flapped its little wings to keep the embers glowing throughout the night. As a reminder of its gift, the little robin was given a red breast…reddened by the fire.
The Nativity / Manger / Creche
What is often called a manger is more appropriately known as the Crèche or Nativity Scene. The manger is actually the feeding trough for animals. There was no crib for the Christ Child; so, He was laid in a manger lined with hay. People often refer to the Stable as the manger...
It only makes sense that the Family’s Nativity Scene be blessed when it is set up or before Christmas.In 1223, St. Francis of Assisi celebrated the first Feast of the Nativity. The Feast has continued from that day forward. St. Francis based his Feast on two early celebrations, the first dating from Pope Liberius (352-366) and the second from Pope Gregory III (731-741).In the early years, a consecrated host was laid in the Manger just as the Christ Child had lain in the manger in Bethlehem. By the 16th Century, the Crèche was no longer confined to the Church, as Catholics in Germany started erecting small crèches (Kristkribbe) under their own Christmas trees in their homes.
Wreath Legends & Meanings
Legend of the Shepherd Boy and the Wreath
A poor boy had no gift to give the Holy Child; so he made a tiny crown of leaves from a Holly Bush.
Compared to the expensive gifts the others had given, the crown was of little value. The little shepherd boy began to cry as he presented, but when the Babe touched the Holly crown with His tiny hand, the leaves suddenly gleamed and the teardrops turned to scarlet berries.
Through the centuries, the Holly wreath became a traditional Christmas decoration, reminding us of the Miracle of Christ’s Birth.
The Meaning of the Wreath
The wreath represents the crown of Christ who is King of our world. It also symbolizes the “Crown of Thorns” which Jesus wore at the time of his death. It’s an evergreen to symbolize Jesus’ unchanging, eternal love for us. It is a circle to show that God has no beginning and no ending.
Legend of the Poinsettia
The Poinsettia was named for Joel Robert Poinsett, a native of South Carolina. Poinsett was serving as an ambassador in Mexico when he came across the Poinsettia. In 1829, he sent some home from Mexico to South Carolina, where they did very well in his greenhouse.
According to legend, the origin of the poinsettia was as follows: a poor Mexican girl and her brother were on their way to church on Christmas Eve but had nothing to give the Christ child. They gathered weeds and made them into a small bouquet. The other children made fun of their gift. When they laid the branches at the manger in the church, the weeds were miraculously transformed into bright red and white leaves that we know as the poinsettia.A variation of the legend speaks of a poor child, who prayed for a gift to present to the Christ child. As he knelt at the altar saying his prayers, bright red and green plants grew up at his feet.Another legend says, as the Star of Bethlehem shone on the earth, the earth responded by producing a plant that mirrored the star’s beauty. The flower was star shaped with white petals and a golden star center. On the day that Christ died on the cross, the white petals turned red to remember Jesus’ blood and some remained white to remember the purity of his sacrifice.
Regardless of which legend you fancy, the general shape of the plant and the arrangement of leaves are seen as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the wise men to the baby Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity.
Holly Legends (Christmas Version)
Christian legend says one winter night, the holly miraculously grew leaves out of season in order to hide the Holy Family from Herod’s soldiers. Since then, it has been an evergreen as a token of Christ’s gratitude…
One night as the holy family was fleeing to Egypt, Joseph heard the soldiers riding behind them. Since there were no rocks or caves to hide in, the family hid beneath the branches of a holly bush. Normally, the bush would not have offered much shelter since it had lost all its leaves in the fall. But that night the holly miraculously pushed forth its leaves and grew sharp thorns to hide the family. Since then the holly has borne leaves all year long.
Christmas Holly Poem…
When Christ was born in Bethlehem on that first Christmas night A barren bush outside the stable blossomed full and bright It bore a grim reminder of the crown He’d one day wear It’s prickly leaves foretold the thorns of sorrow He would bear Amidst the green there grew strange fruit - small berries scarlet red As crimson as the blood our Savior was to shed In honor of the Prince of Peace A flower pure and white Blossomed sweetly when the Lord was born that holy Christmas night.
~ Author unknown ~
Holly is truly a Christmas tradition. Holly is an evergreen with waxy leaves that resist water loss when the soil is frozen in winter. This is why it does not wither when brought indoors as a Christmas decoration.
Another legend about Christmas holly says a little orphan boy was living with the shepherds when the angels came to announce the birth of the newborn King. Having no gift for the baby, the child wove a crown of holly branches for its head. But when he laid it before Christ, he became ashamed of its poverty and began to cry. Miraculously, Jesus touched the crown and it began to sparkle while the orphan’s tears turned into beautiful scarlet berries.
Mary's Special Gift
by Tara Lee Davis from the website of the Humane Society of Ottawa
Many of us are familiar with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The story many people don’t know about is Mary, Baby Jesus, and a very special Tabby Cat.
On the night Jesus was born, many animals stood silently by – the quiet oxen, the patient donkey and horses, the nesting does, the gentle dogs and another young mother, a beautiful tabby cat.
The young cat was nearby contentedly nursing her young, making sure all her kittens were clean and fed. After their tummies were full, she carefully licked their little faces clean and gently carried them all one by one to the barn’s loft to rest for the night. The young mother cat settled down next to her kittens and softly purred a mother’s lullaby to put all her six babies to sleep.
In the barn the gentle silence of the night was broken by the cries of Jesus.
Mary rocked her child gently in her arms trying to comfort Him and bring sleep to her precious son, but baby Jesus wouldn’t sleep. He cried and was restless.
Mary laid Jesus in the manger and tried gently singing to Him hoping this would please Him and He would sleep.
Upstairs in the loft with all her kittens asleep the young tabby cat tiptoed across the loft to see what all the commotion was about. After all, it was only one baby not six!
Looking down into the manger the little cat saw baby Jesus crying and Mary helpless as to her son’s needs. Why would Jesus not sleep and how could she help him?
Quietly the little cat climbed down from the loft and padded softly towards the manger where Jesus lay. Ever so gently, the little tabby placed her delicate paws on the edge of the manger; there she stood looking at Jesus with wide green eyes.
With a tender meow she turned to Mary and Mary smiled. With this the little tabby cat leapt up gingerly into the manger and settled down next to Jesus and gently purred a soft mother cat’s lullaby that soothed her tiny kittens and slowly baby Jesus too quietly drifted off to sleep.
Grateful for the little cat’s help, Mary gently picked up the little tabby cat and cradled her in her arms. The little tabby cat continued to purr and gently licked Mary’s hand.
Mary lifted the little tabby cat up and with a smile quietly said, “From one new mother to another, I thank you.” Mary gave the little tabby a kiss on the forehead.
To this day, all Tabby cats around the world will always carry an “M” on their forehead as a mark of the kiss that Mary gave to all tabbies as a special gift for their special part they played in the life of Jesus.