1. Acorns, like the oak trees that bear them, are considered harbingers of good luck. They represent a “rebirth” of life.
2. Angels, and not only the Herald ones, feature significantly in the Christmas Story. According to esoteric Christian teachings, there are nine Angelic Choirs: Seraphim; Cherubim; Thrones; Dominions; Virtues; Powers; Principalities; Archangels and Angels.
3. Apples are a traditional symbol of temptation, and used in Paradise Plays presented on December 24th. These told the story of Adam and Eve. If, after Christmas Dinner, the Head of the Family cuts an apple across in half, and a perfect star is seen, the family will be blessed in the year to come.
4. Bells being tolled repel evil spirits. Their pealing also represents new beginnings and enlightenment. In Victorian England, it was in vogue to play carillons of hymns, sometimes without vocal accompaniment, using hand-held bells.
5. Birds are universal symbol of happiness; they are messengers of good news, love and peace. Some specific birds, such as the dove, pelican and phoenix have special associations with Christmas.
6. Camels are Ships of the Desert. Their hooves help them negotiate sand, and they are symbolic of how sure knowledge of what was only a prophecy was acquired, and we must bear our burdens patiently along the path of life.
7. Carol derives from the Italian carolare. Caroling (one l) was the medieval custom of singing and dancing around the tree, and since some of the lyrics were quite bawdy, they could not be sung inside a church.
8. Devils with red faces, horns and tails, ironically, have found their niche as Christmas symbols too. Devil figures and masks reminded merry-makers of the Hereafter. Black Peter, who accompanies Saint Nicholas, is either the man who killed the three children the Saint made whole again, or the Devil.
9. Icicles have a supposedly delightful origin. Mary sheltered with her Infant under a pine tree, and when it realised who the Baby was, it wept tears of joy, and since the weather was cold, they turned into icicles.
10. Magi, since at least 4BC, are understood to be followers of Zoroaster, midway between astronomers and astrologists. The gifts they brought Jesus showed that they believed him to be King (gold, a precious metal associated with power), Man (myrrh, a resin from a shrub used in making perfume and embalming) and God (frankincense a resin from a rare tree used as incense).
11. Manger: This is the place where Baby Jesus slept, but it is also the place where fodder was placed in the animals’ stalls; a fount of nourishment.
12. Mince Pies contain a spicy mixture that recalls the wealth of the exotic East, which the Magi brought with them when they visited the Holy Family.
13. Plum Puddings may possibly be traced back to the meat and vegetable pottages made in Roman times. Dried fruits, sugar and spices were added, and the concoction cooked over slow heat in a large metal pot. These days, it is a sign of family unity since all the members of a household are supposed to help stir it.
14. Poinsettias were cultivated by the Aztecs of central Mexico, who called it Cuetlaxochitl. They held it as a symbol of purity and used the plant’s latex as an antipyretic, and made a reddish-purple dye from the bracts.
15. Reindeer are the animals ostensibly chosen by Saint Nicholas, in his guise as Father Christmas, to pull his sleigh. Just for the record, their names as given in the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas), the authorship of which is disputed, are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner (or Dunder) and Blitzen (or Blixem) Rudolph was not a part of the original team.
16. Walnuts were eaten, and the shells became candle-holders for children. Set in a pan of water and lit, these foretold a long life for boys if they did not capsize and a good husband for the girls if the candle did not warp.
Stories of an American couple's adventures in Italy
'Ghandi x' Nghid' (I have something to say) is a blog that focuses on current affairs and personal reflections - Andrew Azzopardi