Agricultural Extension Service, South Dakota State College
How many of us in the hurry and hubbub of the holiday season steal a few silent moments to consider "from whence comes Christmas"? We see Christmas decorations all around us in our home and community, and possibly we shared in putting them there. What does all this mean? Where did these symbols of Christmas originate? Celebration of Christmas has two familiar and important aspects. Its real significance is religious, a festival kept with reverence by people of many faiths. It is also a time for joyous celebration of the birthday of ·the Prince of Peace. This is expressed through feelings of good will, family gatherings; all people become young at heart and see through the eyes of children at this time of year. The term, "Noel," from the French, means birthday, or it may derive from a word meaning news. In either case, the reference is to the birthday of Christ or to news of that momentous event. People, when happy, express themselves in many ways. Traditions, customs, and symbols of Christmas have come to America from almost as many lands as we have peoples, brought here by our forefathers and observed, with only slight modification, down through the years. Traditions are the unwritten stories, beliefs, and activities that are handed down from generation to generation, customs so long continued that they almost become the force of law. Symbols are objects (animate or inanimate) that represent emblems, figures, or understanding such as a creed or belief. The symbols are used to express traditions.
Nelson, Kay, "Symbols of Christmas" (1961). SDSU Extension Circulars. 602.