What do you tell your children when they ask you: “why do we decorate for Christmas”? I know many people haven’t really thought about it much. Obviously the most simple answer would be something akin to: “because its tradition” or “we have always decorated”. This simple answer is like answering the question of, “where did the universe come from” and responding with: “aliens”. It doesn’t actually answer the question because then one can ask a further question: “where did the aliens come from” or in our case “why did this tradition start”.
Wouldn’t you like to know what the decorations mean so you can tell your children why we decorate? Well I cannot tell you what they mean objectively because God hasn’t given us any objective revelation as to what they should or do mean, however I can tell you what I will tell my children when they ask me that fateful question: “daddy why do we decorate?”
Of course it is true we decorate because it is tradition and like all good traditions there is enjoyment and meaning found in the forms of it, whether we know the particulars or not. Don’t get me wrong, there is actually no meaning intrinsically in any decoration. We do not live in a magical world, no matter how much Disney argue’s otherwise, and thus things have no power in themselves. Power is given things only by those who actually have power, namely God, but also us to a lesser extent. God can set apart something common and make it holy, like circumcision in the OT, and likewise we too can use neutral things, like guns, for good or bad purposes (defending my family vs. murdering my enemy).
This means, simply put, that the decorations we put up at Christmas (or any holiday for that matter) are intrinsically neutral and are only “good or bad” depending on the meaning we give to them. Just as I can burn a log to heat my home and comfort my family, I can also burn a log to some pagan God. There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about burning the log, it is all within the attitude I do it in and with the meaning I give it. Thus it ultimately comes down to the meanings you give these decorations (if God hasn’t preempted your responsibility) no matter what others might say about them.
These are the meanings I give to my Christmas decorations and I hope that they will help you think about your decorations in a new light.
1) Christmas lights (or candles) – we light our house and tree because we are of the light and not of the darkness. God has called us to be the children of the light and let our light shine. By using lights during this holiday we are acknowledging that we are children of God. These lights also represent the starts and the hosts of heaven that sang at the birth of Jesus and looked down upon where He laid.
2) Wreath – It, like our wedding rings, represents the wholeness without end of God’s care for us. A circle is complete with no beginning or end as is our God who created nature and gave us Christ. God, the never ending Being, complete in and of Himself, took on the form of creation becoming a man, so we take a circle, complete in and of itself, and place creation (leaves) upon it. It’s beauty reminds us that God does care for this creation and loves beauty.
3) Yule log – reminds us that God cares for us and our needs (warmth) and that we have a greater need to be warmed by Christ, the true Gift of God for us and our greatest need, our cold hearts to be warmed back to life. So let us gather around the yule log as a family to be warmed and reminded that as a family we need God’s greater source of light and heat, and to experience the warmth of the love of God in the heat of the fire. Also let it remind us that as the log burns up so God has promised to burn up our evil deeds and remember them no more.
4) Nativity scene – (I want to state at the outset that I am disappointed in people who have the wise men at the Nativity because they were not there, they showed up when Jesus was around 2 years old and thus I do not have the wise men at the site.) This scene is to remind us of our Savior and God’s humble birth. He didn’t come to the wealthy or powerful, but to the poor and least of men to announce His birth and the beginning of the end of God’s plan for redemption. The greatest King and true ruler of heaven and earth lays as a child in humble abode having endured the womb for 9 months, helpless and yet Creator. Let us remember and be humbled and joyed at this miracle and blessing from God.
5) Christmas tree – We put up an evergreen tree because God’s love never ends nor His care for creation. We bring it into our homes because we are not ashamed of creation and are reminded that we first began (in Adam) as gardeners and caretakers of a garden with many trees around. We decorate it because God has called us to subdue, organize, and beautify creation beyond His original design. The decorations represent the blessings and gifts God has given to us to help us fulfill His desire for us to be His rulers over creation. We either place a star or an angel on top of the tree to represent God’s announcement either through Angels or the Star of Christ’s birth into this world and His preeminence over us and Creation.
6) Stockings – We put out empty stockings to represent our emptiness before God. Just like the stocking cannot fill itself, so we cannot fill ourselves with God’s love or gifts, but rather He must fill us out of His own volition and action. They are empty before Christmas Day because there was an emptiness in this world before Jesus was born, and now that He is here He has given out the Gifts of God unto His people, and so we fill them the day Jesus is born with gifts to represent God’s gifts to us.
7) Christmas presents – In any good celebration one should always give presents to others. Out of joy one should share his blessings with others. What one event do we have more opportunity to have Joy in but in the one where God becomes a man to save us from our sins and adopt us into the family of God and give us all of God’s riches and blessings? So out of our joy of what God has done and given to us, we celebrate by giving to others things by which they can be joyful too, and reminded that the greatest gift and joy is found in Christ, God’s greatest gift to us all!
I know there are more decorations in Christmas, but these are some of the main ones, and frankly the ones I could think of in the moment. If you have others feel free to give them meaning as well. I hope you saw that I attempted to make sure the Gospel was apart of every decoration, as the Gospel should so be apart of our lives and especially apart of this celebration, that we do not quickly ignore or forget it. I wish you all a very happy Christmas and remember always that Jesus is the Reason for the Season!