4 signs Christmas is on its way

Each year (and usually before Thanksgiving), signs of the upcoming Christmas season approach in the winter months. Whether it be families decorating houses, shopping centers erecting trees or peers on campus dressing in their best ugly sweaters, the Christmas season is fast approaching. Students know what signals Christmas, but how did those symbols come to take on their meaning?

1. Red and green

“Red and green definitely puts me in the mind of Christmas,” said junior Lilly Wallace. “In my house, we have decorations and Christmas cookies that are red and green. I look forward to seeing everything decorated that way.”

Red and green have their historical significance from rood screens, or decorative boundaries that separated areas in the medieval church, according to a 2011 study from the University of Cambridge called “Who colour-coded Christmas?”

Red and green were a major color theme in the screens, which was most likely due to their availability as pigment options, according to the study.

Later, in the Victorian era, people revived the use of these colors into holiday traditions, and the use of them stuck with Christmas celebrations.

2. Christmas trees

“Decorating the Christmas tree is a family thing at my house,” said sophomore Khalil Borders. “We all get together and decorate it together each year.”

The first decorated Christmas tree was recorded in Riga, Latvia, in 1510, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

“Men of the local merchants’ guild decorated a tree with artificial roses, danced around it in the marketplace and then set fire to it,” according to their website. “The rose was used for many years and is considered to be a symbol for the Virgin Mary.”

Twenty years later, in Alsace, France, residents bought trees to celebrate the holiday, but they did not decorate them, according to the website. Over the following centuries, decorations began to vary; in Germany, using apples was common.

In the 1800s, German settlers brought the idea of using Christmas trees to the U.S., and the concept grew in popularity.

3. Candy canes

“I usually always eat candy canes around Christmastime,” said Tavares Weeks, a sophomore. “Their coloring is part of what makes them so fun to eat.”

The origin of the candy cane has no verifiable explanation, but there are many legends as to its existence, according to “The history of candy canes,” a 2014 CBS News report.

One story said a German choir director in the 17th century gave candy canes to children to quiet them during Christmas church services. They were shaped like a shepherd’s staff to symbolize people watching over their flocks, according to the report.

Whether these stories are true, Bob McCormack, in the 1920s, capitalized on the product by using his Albany, Georgia, factory to produce handmade candy canes, which increased their popularity.

4. Mistletoe and holly

“Holly is usually placed on wreaths, and mistletoe lets you kiss someone on Christmas,” said Hannah Bridgeman, a freshman. “They’re definitely strong Christmas symbols.”

Mistletoe and holly have historic origins of signifying calm and peace, according to Did You Know?, an organization that provides historical context to common practices.

Originally, mistletoe was sacred to groups such as the Norse, the Celtic Druids and native North Americans, according to the website. These groups often used it to signify protection.

Romans used holly to honor the god Saturn at their Saturnalia festival (see page 5B for more about Saturnalia) and gave it to each other for uses such as medicine and decoration, according to the site.

“To avoid persecution during the Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia, the early Christians decked their homes with Saturnalia holly,” according to the site. “As Christian numbers increased and their customs prevailed, holly and mistletoe lost their pagan associations and became symbols of Christmas.”