Growing up, one of my favorite Christmas stories was commonly titled, “Teach the Children.” * In the story, the narrator comes across Santa Claus in their house. Santa requests that the narrator teaches their children the true meaning of Christmas. In this story Santa teaches that the popular symbols of Christmas like candy canes, Christmas trees, and stars all center around Jesus Christ, his love, and his sacrifice. I believe that these spiritual meanings for our Christmas symbols are vital for our children to know and pass along. We must teach our children about Jesus Christ and how he is not only the center of Christmas, but the center of our lives.
The Star – Stars are commonly placed on top of Christmas trees. Heavenly Father placed a bright star in the sky when Jesus was born. It was so bright that when the sun set, there was no darkness. In the New Testament (Matthew 2), the star led the wise men to Jesus; and in the Book of Mormon it was a sign to the world that Jesus Christ, our Savior, had been born (Helaman 14:1-2,5 and 3 Nephi 1:21). In the story, the star represents God’s promise being fulfilled that he would send us a Savior. We can also teach our children that because the star was recorded in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, we know that Jesus Christ truly was born.
The Color Red – In the story, red is represented by a red tree ornament. Red is the first color of Christmas. The color red represents the blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The blood that he shed for all of us. When we decorate and dress in red, we should remember the atoning sacrifice that Jesus lovingly made for all of us. We should actively use the Atonement in our lives for comfort, strength, and repentance; and we should teach our children to do the same.
The Christmas Tree – The Christmas trees that we decorate with ornaments, wrap with lights, and place gifts under are generally fir trees. Fir trees are evergreen trees; they stay green all year round, and in the story that represents the hope of mankind being everlasting as well. We must strive to keep our hope in Christ, in his gospel, and in each other alive and well throughout our lives. The needles of the fir tree point heavenward, as should our thoughts. We must teach our children to hang onto their hope and to set their sights on Heaven, for when they do that they will follow Jesus Christ.
Christmas Bells – Trees, sleighs, stockings, and sweaters are decorated with bells. One of the ancient uses of bells was to help bring lost sheep back to their shepherd. The bells at Christmas time symbolize the call to bring mankind back to the fold of the Good Shepherd – Jesus Christ. The bell further signifies that each individual is precious in the eyes of God. In the New Testament Jesus taught to go after the one. We have all been the one at some point in our lives, and someone reached out and saved us. We must pay it forward and go after the one. In our most recent General Conference, Elder K. Brett Nattress said, “The gospel truly is about the one. It is about one lost sheep (see Luke 15:3–7); it is about one Samaritan woman at a well (see John 4:5–30); it is about one prodigal son (see Luke 15:11–32).” We teach these principles to our children by teaching about, encouraging, and modeling missionary work.
Candles/Christmas Lights – Christmas candles are placed around people’s homes and lights are strung up on the roof, windows, and wrapped around trees. Candles and Christmas lights show our thanks for the star from so long ago that announced Christ’s birth. When we are stringing the lights out and lighting the candles, we can teach our children that when they look at the lights, they can remember the star that led the Wise Men to the baby Jesus and told the rest of the world that our Savior had been born.
Gifts/Bows – During Christmas time we give gifts to our friends and family. Traditionally, bows are wrapped around presents as the final accessory to gift wrapping. The bow represents the spirit of brotherhood. As a bow is tied, all of us should be tied together with the bonds of goodwill and love. The gift itself was inspired by the gifts that the Wise Men brought the baby Jesus. They brought their gifts in love and reverence, as we should treat those whom we are giving to. Gifts should also remind us of the greatest gift of all, the gift that Heavenly Father sent us: His son, Jesus Christ. When we teach our children about gifts, we teach them how kind and loving it is to give to others. We help them learn through experience how good it feels, and that when we give, we emulate the light of Christ; because that is what Christ did during his ministry, he gave.
Candy Cane – Candy canes are used as tree decorations, some of our yard lights are shaped like candy canes, and they make a delicious treat! The candy cane is shaped like and represents the shepherd’s crook. It was used to guide sheep back to the flock. The candy cane today should remind us to be our brother’s keeper. Like the bell, it is an excellent symbol to teach about missionary work and service. The original colors of the candy cane – red and white – represent the Atonement. The red is the blood of Christ, and the white is the purity of what we can become when we apply the Atonement in our lives.
Holly Wreath – Our doors and windows are generally decorated with wreaths. In a circular shape, the wreath never ends. And so the wreath symbolizes eternal love, which also never ends. This eternal love should be felt for our family members, our friends, and even complete strangers. This is the love we should feel for our all of spirit brothers and sisters. This is the love of Christ. In the version of the story I have, Santa says, “the wreath does double duty. It is made of many things and in many colors. It should remind us of all the things of Christmas.” Wreaths can be made of leaves, candy, decorations, etc. Our wreaths represent love by their circular shape and other aspects of Christmas according to what they are made of.
Angel – Angels are often placed on the tops of Christmas trees. They are also found in many nativity sets. Angels play an important part of Christmas. They visited Mary to tell her that she was chosen to become the mother of the Savior (Luke 1:26-38). They visited Joseph to tell him not to fear marrying Mary (Matthew 1:20-21). And on the night that Jesus was born, angels visited the shepherds that were nearby and told them the wonderful news; and the shepherds then spread the news after visiting the holy manger (Luke 2:8-20). This Christmas symbol is one of the more obvious ones, but important to teach about nonetheless.
I would like to add one of my own: The Nativity Set. The Nativity set is my favorite Christmas decoration. It is the theme of the Christmas decorations in my home. Miniature sets can be found in our homes and most of us own such a nativity scene. Larger scenes are set up in places like Temple Square and in front yards. The meaning of the Nativity – the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ – is not unknown, but its importance and whether it is the center of our Christmas differs from family to family. Out of all the different teachings and activities that happen at Christmas time, this is the most important lesson we should be teaching our children. That Jesus Christ is who we celebrate during Christmas time. His birth, his life, his love for all of us. The gifts we give, the services we render, should emulate his light. We must keep Christ in Christmas.
This Christmas we have been encouraged to spend 25 days giving love and service to others. It’s never too late to start! Visit https://www.mormon.org/christmas/in-25-ways-over-25-days to see what you can do.
*There are several versions of the “Teach the Children” story, and these three are closest to the one I grew up with: