Stories of the Symbols

December is a month full of holiday spirit and festivities. You look down your street and you see yards decorated with different colored lights and plastic santas. If you drive down the street you might see cars with fluffy with a red nose strapped to the front. Once you step in the house there is a big green tree topped with a star or a shiny menorah is resting on the table. But do we know why those memorabilia are there? Many times, we associate things with the holiday seasons without even realizing why we do it.

Santa Claus-

The original “Santa Claus” was derived from the Dutch word for Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a generous man of God who gave out presents to the young children to lighten the mood during the long, hard winter. After he died, people still carried on his tradition of giving and spreading kindness. The modern Santa Claus as we know today was imaged in Clement Clarke Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas”. He wanted the image of Saint Nicholas to be more kid friendly and welcoming.



The common story about reindeer being the main magic for Santa´s sleigh was only recently introduced in the 1823 by Clement Clarke Moore. The poem consisted of 8 flying reindeer that helped Saint Nicholas fly from house to house to deliver presents. The reindeer, or better know as the caribou, represent safe traveling and journeying.


The Dreidel is a toy with four sides that contain Hebrew writings that when put together read, “A great miracle happened there.” This toy was used by ancient Jewish people when they held secret meetings for religious readings. During the time, they were not allowed to practice openly and if a soldier walked in on their secret meeting they would take out the dreidels to trick the soldiers into thinking that they were simply playing a harmless game.


Red and Green-

When the colors red and green are paired together, they are often associated with Christmas. The colors trace back to the early Romans, the ancient Egyptians, and Europe in the Middle Ages. The color green being associated with Christmas comes from the trade and giving of evergreen plants around the holiday season. Holly, Ivy, and mistletoe were used to decorate homes when the weather got colder. These plants represented the coming of spring. The Paradise Tree was a major symbol in the Paradise Play. The tree was in the garden of Eden that held apples. The plays were performed on Christmas Eve and the tree and the red apples were a major symbol throughout the plays. The colors red and green were from then on associated with the holiday season.

Mkeka Mat-

The Mkeka Mat is a tradition during the celebration of Kwanzaa. All other symbols used in the holiday are placed on this mat because the mat symbolizes foundation for the life and homes. The Mkeka used to be hand woven from fabrics or grasses. This colorful homemade mat is now often knitted or checkered and placed in a focal point of homes.



Mistletoe was hung on houses during the ancient Druid days. They symbolized good luck and were thought to ward away any evil. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe comes from England. Originally a berry had to be picked from the plant and then they could kiss, but once the plant had no berries left on it, the pair couldn’t kiss anymore.



The menorah is a Jewish tradition that has been around since ancient times. It is believed that the Menorah is the only symbol that wasn’t man made. The Jewish God directly contacted Moses and told him that he needed to make a small structure with a main stem and 6 branches pointing out. He had instructed that “the lampshade” , as he called it, must be built in pure gold. The two different types of Menorahs, one with 7 branches and one with 9, are both used today. During the holiday of Hanukkah, 7 oil candles are places on each branch and one is lit every day of the 7 day week.


Christmas Trees-

The Christmas tree, or evergreen tree, is a symbol of life in the middle of the cold, dark winters. In the middle ages, people were talking about the story of how the trees near the birthplace of Jesus began to shake off all of the snow fell off of them. The Romans would put evergreen trees in small boxes and put them in their house.

Christmas lights-

Christmas lights are a modern take on the old tradition of putting candles on trees. The early practice of putting candles on the Christmas tree was a dangerous tradition that started in the 17th century. The candles would often catch the tree on fire so they had to wait until the night before Christmas to light them. Thomas Edison and his helper, Edward Johnson, put red, green and white lights together on one long strand and hung them on their tree. President Grover Cleveland followed their path and hung the lights on the tree in the white house in 1895. After that, people began stringing the lights around the trees. Even though it was expensive to light up a tree, the beauty baffled people and made starting the tradition easier.



The Kinara is essential to the celebration of Kwanzaa. The Kinara is a candle holder that holds 7 candles, the Mishumaa Shaba. The Kinara is a tribute to the ancient ancestors of African descent. It symbolizes the roots and origin of Everyone’s ancient ancestors being dated back to the original birthplace, Africa.