Seeing Christ in Today's Christmas

Bruce Satterfield
Brigham Young University - Idaho

PDF Version

I remember looking around my childhood home at Christmas time and seeing a green tree ornamented with lights, golden ornaments and silver tinsel. There would be presents under the tree. Above our fireplace stockings were hung. Mistletoe was hung above the entrance way into the dining room. A wreath was hung on the door. Pictures of Santa Claus, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, and Frosty the Snow Man were hung around the house. Special candles were brought out and a nutcracker placed on the fireplace mantle. The outside of our house was always decorated with lights and we always wished for snow! My parents used to send cards to everybody, even people they hadn't seen in years.

As I saw these things they would excite within me the thrill of the Christmas season. Yet, often I wondered what any of these things had to do with the birth of Christ that we were celebrating. It seemed that the birth of Christ was only of incidental concern at Christmas.

As I grew, I remember hearing people complain about various aspects of the Christmas season. I remember such comments as, "If Christmas is a time to remember Christ why do we have a Santa Claus or a Christmas tree?" When I was in high school, in an effort to convince me that the Christmas tree was of pagan origin, one of my friends showed me a scripture out of the Old Testament which reads: "For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not" (Jeremiah 10:3-4). Yet, for me, it was not Christmas until the tree was put up with the myriad of other decorations.

I have observed over the years the disillusionment of many because of the commercialism of Christmas. I hear many deplore Christmas advertisements on T.V. before the Thanksgiving holiday and seeing Christmas displays in stores at Halloween time. Many complain of Christmas shopping in crowded stores and waiting in long lines to buy presents. The selling of trees, Santas, decorations, movies, etc., all seem to distract from the Nativity story. I, too, find myself disgusted with by the secularization and commercialism of Christmas that has depreciated what has always been a wonderful time of year for me.

Yet in all these things are there not shadows of Christ?

I believe there is. Among the trappings of Christmas, if viewed through less pessimistic eyes, many aspects of Christ and his atonement can be seen. Because of this, I have recovered for myself the wonders, beauties, and magic of Christmas that I found so dear as a young child in a way that has brought great meaning to the Christmas nativity story. Consider the following.
 

Colors

Christmas is a very visual experience. Colors, such as white, green, and red, play an integral part in all that is associated with this season. However, for most people, these colors have no greater symbolism than the fact they are known as Christmas colors. Yet, if viewed in a certain way, these colors can add rich meaning to any Christmas decoration, ornament, figure or object, turning them into purposeful symbols.

Red, for example, can symbolize blood-the blood of Jesus Christ shed for the sins of all mankind as part of the Atonement. Indeed, that is the reason we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. White can symbolize purity and cleanness, the product of the Atonement. Green-as seen in evergreen plants-can symbolize everlasting life. Through the blood of Christ man can receive everlasting or eternal life. Blue can represent the heavens or God, since the sky is often where we point to the heavens. Purple, the royal color, is a combination of both red and blue. With red representing blood or mankind, and blue representing God, purple can symbolize Christ, who was both man and God at the same time. Gold can represent the richness of eternal life, the gift made possible for all through the Christ's atoning sacrifice.
 

Christmas Tree

Perhaps the central symbol of Christmas in our current Christmas tradition is the Christmas tree. It's just not Christmas until the tree is put up in the living room! How the tree became part of the Christmas tradition is not known for sure. One legend is of particular interest. Since most people of medieval Europe could not read, plays, often called "mystery plays,"were used to teach stories and lessons from the bible. In Germany, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the "Paradise play" was performed in villages on December 24. The play depicted the Fall of Adam and Eve. As part of the play an evergreen tree decorated with apples was used to represent the tree of knowledge of good and evil. At the appropriate time, Eve would partake of the fruit and give it to Adam.. The play ended with the promise of the coming of a Savior to free man from the Fall of Adam. Eventually, because of immoral practices crept into the play, the Church banned the play. However, on December 24, many people continued to put up an evergreen tree in their home and decorate it with apples and homemade wafers. The apples represented the forbidden fruit while the wafers represented the fruit of the tree of life.

Regardless of how the tree became part of our Christmas tradition, it certainly can be viewed with positiveness. Trees are an important aspect of the scriptures. As already noted, in the garden of Eden eternal life was represented as a tree. The tree of life plays a central role in Lehi's dream. Nephi learned that the tree of life was the love of God expressed through the atonement of Christ (see 1 Nephi 11:10-23). Through the atonement mankind may receive everlasting or eternal life. With these images in mind, it is not difficult to see within the Christmas tree a reminder of the eternal life given us by Christ. The bulbs hanging from the bough can remind us of the fruit of the tree of life while lights can represent the importance of the light of Christ. Further, the stand of the Christmas tree, which gives the tree support and water, can symbolize the first principles and ordinances of the gospel (faith, repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost) upon which the gospel or tree of life is supported. The water in the stand symbolizes the living waters that give the gospel its life (see 1 Ne. 11:25).
 

Gifts

Another central symbol of Christmas is gift-giving. As the magi brought gifts to the Savior of "gold, and frankincense, and myrrh " (Matt. 2:11), so gift-giving has become part of the Christmas tradition. Gifts are placed under the tree or in stockings. Some gifts come from Santa Claus while other gifts are exchanged between family members and friends. Gifts truly are gestures of love and friendship. Yet, each gift can remind us the gift of eternal life, "which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God" (D&C 14:7). The gift of eternal life is made possible through the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

Gifts placed under a Christmas tree are an appropriate reminder that the atonement is a gift. When we receive gifts, they can remind us of our desire to receive the gift of the atonement within our own lives. As we give gifts, we should be reminded that we should be "anxiously engaged" (D&C 58:27) in helping others to receive the benefits of Christ's atonement. Indeed, all our actions should be aimed at helping others to find the tree of life and eat of its fruit, "whose fruit is most precious and most desirable above all other fruits; yea, and it is the greatest of all the gifts of God" (1 Ne. 15:36).
 

Stockings

We place special stockings out at Christmas within which Santa puts gifts. Stockings cover our feet. Our feet symbolize the course of life we take. The stockings therefore can symbolize that our path of life should lead us to the gift Christ has given to all men, even eternal life.
 

Christmas Morning

For me, Christmas morning is symbolic of the second coming of Christ and the beginning of the great millennial era. The hope of everyone is for a "White Christmas." With snow everywhere we are reminded of the purity that will exist during the millennium. On Christmas morning, everyone arises early to open their gifts. This is reminiscent of rising on the morning of the first resurrection to receive the gift of eternal life. And though "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35), the gift of eternal is something we all hope and wish for. Christmas day is a day of rest, rejoicing and being with family and friends.
 

Christmas colors, trees, stockings, and gifts are among the more obvious Christmas symbols. Other decorations are less obvious and more commercial. Yet they may also be viewed with a less pessimistic eye. Though I do not believe it was intended, within them can be seen a many of features of Christ and his atonement, as the following will illustrate.
 

Santa Claus

Santa Claus can symbolize the happy, loving, and giving Christ. His red suit can depict the blood he shed for the atonement. The white trim of his suit can remind us of his purity. The gloves he wears can symbolize the work of his hands. If the gloves are red, they may represent that his work is the redemption of mankind through the his shed blood. White gloves could denote that his work is to make mankind clean. If they are green, his work is to bring eternal life to man. Black gloves could symbolize that his work was to remove sin and death.

By his very nature Santa is unselfish, laboring all the time to give his gifts. Yet when he gives his gifts, he always does it anonymously at night when everyone is asleep. He does not bring gifts for the honor or praise of the world but because of love. His gift is given personally to every home and to every person. Are these not all characteristic of Christ?

Only little children believe in the magic of Santa Claus. When they get older and wise to the ways of the world, they lose their belief in Santa Claus. Unfortunately, the same is true with regards to many in our world. Of a truth, we are taught to become like little children in our belief of Christ and not wise to the ways of the world and lose our belief.

Elves

The Christmas tradition views Santa as an elf with a number of elves who help him in his year-long endeavor to bring gifts to all. Likewise, Christ is not alone in his endeavor to save mankind through his atoning sacrifice. He is supported and aided by many. Angels, Church leaders, home teachers, and of course, parents are among the many who assist in the bringing of eternal life to God's children.
 

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer

The children Christmas song that has become a classic, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, has some interesting parallels to the story of Christ. I have no doubt the parallels were unintended. Both were different. Both were mocked and unaccepted by their peer. Yet, both "saved the day" so to speak. Rudolph saved Christmas by the power of his "red" nose "that glowed"guiding Santa through the fog. The Savior has saved mankind through his blood and has given life and light to all mankind. In Rudolph, then we can visualize Christ as the light and guide for mankind.
 

Frosty the Snowman

As with Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman has become part of Christmas tradition. The song is well known. Frosty was a snowman who magically came alive after a black hat was put on him. He played with the children who believed in him. However, the song ends with Frosty leaving (as he was melting) though he promised to return again someday. Is it too absurd to see within Frosty parallels of Christ? The white snow of which he was made exemplifies the purity of Christ. The magical nature of Frosty reminds us of miraculous nature of Christ, performing miracles including the atonement. The children believed in Frosty and it was for them that Frosty came alive. And so it is with Christ . . . we must all humble ourselves as little children and believe in the miraculous power of Christ and his atonement. Further, as Frosty left but promised to return, Jesus Christ died, was resurrected, ascended to heaven with the promise that he would return again one day. Frosty, then, can represent the miraculous nature of Christ.
 

The Nutcracker

Made a popular Christmas decoration because of the Nutcracker Suite, the nutcracker can be a powerful symbol of the militant nature of Jesus Christ, an aspect often overlooked. The main character of the Nutcracker Suite was a little girl who received many toys for Christmas. Her favorite was a nutcracker. She dreamed that the nutcracker became a handsome prince who led the other toys in a victorious battle against the rats (which brought the black plague). After the victory, the nutcracker escorted the girl into the Kingdom of the Sweets. Like the nutcracker, in Gethsemane and on Golgotha, Christ's defeated spiritual death, Upon his second coming, he will defeat the kingdom of Satan (church of the devil) and led the righteous into his kingdom as the great Millennium begins. Therefore, the nutcracker can symbolize Christ as our leader against Satan and his influence.
 

Other Symbols

Many other decorations found at Christmas may be viewed as symbols of Christ. Wreaths are round and green with red berries. They can symbolize that eternal life is everlasting and brought about by the atonement. In ancient Rome, a wreath was worn as a sign of victory. The victory we celebrate is Christ's victory in the Garden and on the cross.

Mistletoe is green with white berries. Because of Christ's atonement, man can become pure (white berries) thus giving him the gift of eternal life (green leaves of mistletoe). This produces within man a pure, love of Christ and all people. Thus, underneath the mistletoe people kiss symbolizing that pure love.

Christmas cards can represent the love we share with everyone-not just those near us.

Decorated homes honor Christ and his mission. Outside decorations demonstrate that we are a "light unto the world" and inside decorations show that the love of Christ and his atonement is within our heart-that our outside display is not merely a hypocritical image portrayed to the world.

Christmas advertisements can represent the prophetic messages of prophets that Christ would come to the world and that he will return again. When Christmas advertisements begin early in the year they can serve as a reminder that the prophecies of Christ's coming were not given just a few weeks before his birth but rather were first uttered to Adam and have continued to the present day. Such tokens should remind that we should be getting ready for His coming now and not wait until the end.

Shopping in crowds can signal that all mankind should be "anxiously engaged in a good cause" in bringing others the gift of eternal life. Selfless devotion to our fellow man is one of the things required to earn the right to have the gift Christ has given. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone was getting ready for the second coming of Christ?

Xmas is a symbol of Christ often seen at Christmas time. Yet the term Xmas is often misunderstood. Sometimes people deride the term, saying, "They are Xing Christ out of Christmas." However, in Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the word Christ is . Note that Christ begins with an . Anciently, early Christians used to abbreviate Christ with an X because in ancient Greek the X was often written like the letter t which looks like a cross upon which people were crucified. Consequently, X reminded them of the cross upon which Christ was hung. Therefore, Xmas is a beautiful reminder of what Christ has done for us.
 

These are just a few of the many symbols that surround us at the Christmas season. To me, everything at Christmas reminds me that Christ came to the earth to live, suffer and die that we might live forever in God's kingdom. Unfortunately, because of the secularization of Christmas, for many Christmas has become a holiday rather than a holy day. As a faithful Christian, I find this situation deplorable. Yet, I have little influence on the world around me when it comes to these matters.

However, I have concluded that seeing Christ in Christmas is a matter of personal attitude and vision. I can either see the secularization and commercialism of Christmas and let that ruin my Christmas experience or I can choose to see Christ in Christmas. In the end, it is my choice! It is my hope that all may choose to see Christ in Christmas.