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Christian Symbols: Christmas Ornaments

Dennis Bratcher

Handmade Christmas Tree Ornaments have been popular since the first Christmas Trees were used in sixteenth century Europe.  A fairly recent innovation to this practice in the last half century is to use various traditional symbols of the Christian Faith as the motif of the ornaments.  Some of the traditional symbols of Christianity are monograms composed of various combinations of letters of the name Christ or titles for Jesus. They are sometimes called Christograms or Chrismons™. An early example is the Chi-Rho monogram, composed of the first two letters in Greek of the word Christos (Gk: chi, X = ch; rho, P = r).

These monograms and other symbols, such as the sign of the fish, were in use early in the first centuries of the church as secret symbols of Christianity.  However, the symbols became popular in the fourth century AD when the Roman emperor Constantine, after his conversion to Christianity, adapted the Chi-Rho monogram as his military ensign.

These ornaments are a creative way to use these ancient symbols at Christmas.  The practice of creating and using the ornaments has spread and is becoming an increasingly popular way for families and churches to retain a sense of the sacred amid the secularization of this important Christian holiday.

Not only are the ornaments made by individuals for personal or family Christmas Trees, increasingly they are community projects.  In many cases, a church will have a Christmas Tree in which members of the congregation make the symbol ornaments for the tree.  In some churches, this is combined with the Jesse Tree, and becomes a project for the children of the church during the entire season of Advent

The primary colors of the ornaments should be the liturgical colors of Christmas, white (or silver) and gold (see The Colors of the Church Year).  Beyond that, they can be made from a variety of materials with a range of traditional Christian symbols limited only by the creativity of the person making them. The cross stitch examples pictured here were made by both Catholic and Protestant members of the Hill Air Force Base Chapel, Layton Utah, for the Base Chapel’s Christmas Tree.

Pictured below are only a small selection of the symbols that can be incorporated into these ornaments (click images for larger graphic).

The ten commandments with a cross, representing the continuity of the Old and New Testaments as well as Jesus' fulfillment of the "law."

The fleur-de-lis is a stylized lily. It represents purity and so symbolizes the Virgin Mary. Because of its three points, it can also symbolize the Trinity and the resurrection. In France, it came to represent royalty.

The lyre or harp is associated with David as a shepherd boy, and so represents praise to God.  It symbolizes the angelic chorus who sang praises to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus.

A single white candle symbolizes the Christ.  The golden glow of the candle recalls the halo of light called a nimbus that symbolized divinity and power in medieval paintings.

The eight pointed Armenian Star, the points symbolizing Christ; in the west, it is also called the Bethlehem Star, symbolizing the world Jesus came to save; eight is the symbol of newness, often  associated with baptism or resurrection.

The Star of David or the Creator's Star. The six points represent six aspects of God:  love, mercy, wisdom, majesty, power, and justice. In this form, the two triangles represent the Trinity.

A four-pointed silver Natal Star or Bethlehem Star symbolizing the birth of Jesus; the second set of gold rays form the Greek letter X (chi), the first letter of the title Christos, Christ, in Greek.

A Natal Cross, with a four-pointed Bethlehem Star representing the sign in the night sky announcing Jesus' birth combined with a cross, symbolizing the salvation which the birth of this child brings.

A King's Crown is the symbol of royal power and authority. It symbolizes Jesus as King of the Jews, in fulfillment of prophetic expectation, as well as the exalted Christ as King of Kings.

A variation of the ducal or Prince's Crown, symbolizes Jesus as the Son of God and Prince of Peace.

The Chi-Rho monogram, composed of the first two letters in Greek of the word Christos (Gk: chi, X = ch; rho, P = r). There are many variations of this monogram.

A variation of the Chi-Rho monogram.

A form of the triquetra, a symbol of the Trinity from Great Britain.  The three points represent Father, Son, and Holy Spirit while the continuous interwoven line represents unity.

A combination of a triangle and the trefoil, a stylized shamrock used by St. Patrick to illustrate the Trinity.  Both are symbols of the Trinity, three persons united in One.

The dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, recalling  the Holy Spirit's descent on Jesus as a dove at his Baptism.  The nimbus, three-pointed rays around its head, is a symbol of the Trinity.

The cross combined with a dove symbolizes the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for mission and ministry, as recounted in Luke: "Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit" (4:14).

The Armenian Cross, a pre-Christian icon adapted by Armenian Christians; the number eight was sacred and the eight points came to symbolize Christ. In heraldry, called a Forché  (forked) Cross.

A form of the Armenian Cross; the lilies symbolize the resurrection and hope; the eight points represent Christ and salvation, as well as the proclamation of the Gospel message to all eight points of the compass.

A Calvary Cross with steps symbolizing the site of Jesus' crucifixion.  Also known as the Graded Cross, with the steps representing the virtues of faith, hope, and love. The budded arms symbolize the resurrection and hope.

The Cross and Crown is an ancient symbol of the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus as the Christ. It symbolizes the suffering and death of Jesus as well as his final victory over sin and death.

A variation of the Fleurée or Fleur-de-lis Cross with the arms ending in stylized lilies; the three-petaled arms of the cross symbolize the Trinity; the lily also symbolizes the resurrection.

A Greek Fleurée Cross or Gothic Cross, whose open petals symbolize the mature Christian;  the three petals on each arm symbolize the Trinity, while the open flowers speak of new life and the resurrection.

A cross combined with the shepherd's crook symbolizes Jesus as the Good Shepherd who will lay down his life for others; the two crooks together form a X (chi), the first letter of the title Christos, Christ, in Greek.

A variation of the cross with a X (chi), the first letter of the title Christos, Christ, in Greek.

An Avellane Cross with arms resembling filberts or hazelnuts; used in 18th century English coats of arms and as an heraldry symbol; the three points on the arms symbolize the Trinity and the resurrection.

A modern symbol known as "The Love of God Cross," recalls the words of John 3:16.  It symbolizes the love of God for us revealed in the entire life of Jesus as proclaimed in the four Gospels.

The IHS monogram or Christogram is composed of the first three letters of the name Jesus in Greek. Here it is combined with the Budded or Trefoil Cross symbolizing the Trinity.  Together this symbolizes the divinity of Jesus.

Reminiscent of a Celtic Cross, the circle, since it has no beginning or end symbolizes eternity and so represents God; in this combination, it symbolizes the endless love of God offered through Jesus and his death on the Cross.

A stylized version of the Crusader's or Jerusalem Cross. It symbolizes the Four Gospels or the spread of the Gospel to the four corners of the Earth.  The five crosses can also represent the five wounds of Jesus.

A variation of the Ankh Cross, an ancient Egyptian symbol adopted by Christians to symbolize eternal life; the budded arms symbolize the resurrection and hope.

The Furca (forked) or Upsilon Cross (from the Greek letter Y) is also called The Thieves' Cross from the two robbers who were crucified on each side of Jesus. From ancient times, the furca symbolized the choice between good and evil.

The Cross draped in white/silver is a symbol of the resurrection and Jesus' victory over sin and death.

A variation of the Gamma  Cross (the arms resemble the Greek letter G ) or wheel cross, symbolizing the power of God working in redemption. The four gammas also represent the four Gospels that proclaim redemption.

A cross with a wreath, an ancient symbol of victory, here symbolizing Jesus' victory over sin and death. The greenery of the Christmas wreath connects the cross with Jesus' birth; the circle symbolizes eternity and eternal life.

The cup symbolizing the sacrament of Eucharist or Communion; it also represents forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

A stylized head of wheat symbolizing the bread of Eucharist or Communion. It also recalls Jesus as the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35, 48), and can also represent the Church among the "weeds" of the world.

The Greek letters alpha (first) and omega (last) from  Rev 1:8 and 22:13, symbolizing Jesus as the Christ who has come and will come again; it also symbolizes the continuity of God's presence in human history.

A variation of the alpha and omega symbol for Jesus the Christ.

The first letter In Greek of several titles of Jesus (Jesus, Christ, Son of God, Savior) together spell the Greek word for fish (icquV, ichthus). This fish symbol incorporates the chi-rho monogram.

A ship symbolizes the church as the "ark of salvation" that carries people to safety. It recalls the story of Noah and the flood, as well as Jesus' calming the storm and saving the disciples.

The wreath is an ancient symbol of victory. It symbolizes the victory of Jesus over sin and death. The circle also symbolizes eternity and eternal life.

The decorated and lighted Christmas Tree came into general use in Germany during the Reformation, and symbolized the brightness, beauty, and joy of the Christmas season as a time to celebrate God's grace.

The bell is a later western symbol that arose from church bells calling people to worship.  It represents the proclamation of the Gospel to the world.

A symbol of the Bible and the word of God spoken through Scripture.  The open Bible symbolizes the truth and revelation of God.

The seashell or scallop is a symbol for Christian baptism or the baptism of Jesus. It is also a symbol for pilgrimage and the spread of the Gospel to the world.

A stylized white poinsettia, a modern symbol of the Christmas season.

The Cross represents Christ and the flame is a reminder of Pentecost when diverse witnesses were unified by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Cross and Flame* is the official symbol of the United Methodist Church.*

   

Chrismon™ is a registered trademark of Ascension Lutheran Church, Danville VA

The designs of these ornaments are copyrighted by Designing Women, Inc., from the book Fifty-Five Christian Symbols, and are used by permission. The text and photographs on this page are Copyright © 2012, Dennis Bratcher and CRI/Voice, Institute - All Rights Reserved.

*The Cross and Flame is a registered trademark and is used by permission.  Its use is supervised by the General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church. Permission to use the Cross and Flame must be obtained from the General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church - Legal Department, 1000 17th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212.

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2012, Dennis Bratcher - All Rights Reserved
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