Christmas Symbol Trivia

Christmas is a holiday full of symbollism. Do you know the meanings of the different Christmas symbols? Test your Christmas trivia knowledge with the tidbits below.

What is the Meaning of Gold?

The gift of gold to the Christ Child is supposed to have come from Melchior, a king from Arabia, who, legend has it, was one of the Three Wise Men. His contribution is thought to have financed the Holy Family's flight into Egypt.

Christmas symbol trivia: Gold came from Melchior, one of the Three Wise Men.
Gold came from Melchior.

Gold, as valuable today as it was in Christ's time, symbolizes immortality, divinity, purity, and the kingship of Jesus Christ.

What is the Meaning of Frankincense?

Tradition maintains that Balthasar, one of the Three Wise Men who came from the East to find the Christ Child, presented frankincense to the baby as a gift. By honoring him in this way, Balthasar fulfilled the prophecy that gold and frankincense would be brought from the Gentiles to honor the heavenly king (Isaiah 60 and Psalm 72).

Christmas symbol trivia: Frankincense is an incense given to the baby Jesus.
Frankincense is an incense given to the baby Jesus.

Frankincense, a sweet gum resin from the Boswellia tree, is the purest of incense. When burned, it produces white smoke and a sweet smell, symbolizing the prayers and praises of the faithful as well as Christ's sacrifice and the divine name of God.

What is the Meaning of Myrrh?

Caspar, a king from Tarsus and one of the Three Wise Men, is believed to have given myrrh to the Baby Jesus.

Myrrh is known for its medicinal value and was used in ancient times for cleaning wounds and sores, as an analgesic, and for embalming the dead or anointing kings.

Myrrh is actually an aromatic gum resin that oozes from gashes cut in the bark of the commiphora tree. It hardens into teardrop-shaped chunks and is then pounded into powder or mixed to make ointments and perfumes. It is named for its bitter taste and symbolizes the Suffering Savior, the Great Physician, and Christ's human nature.

What is an Advent Wreath?

The season of Advent is the beginning of the church year for Christians. It starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and ends on Christmas Eve. Meaning "arrival," Advent is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and his eventual return.

Many families celebrate this holy season by lighting an Advent wreath. A circular evergreen wreath is laid flat and adorned with four candles around the wreath and one in the center. It is very symbolic of:

  • The circular shape of the wreath epitomizes God himself, his endless mercy, and eternity, which has no beginning or end.
  • The green pine boughs signify hope in God and eternal life.
  • Candles reflect the light of Jesus coming into the world.

The four purple candles around the wreath stand for the four Sundays of Advent and for the four centuries between the time the prophet Malachi predicted the coming of the Messiah and the actual birth of Jesus. One purple candle is lit for each Sunday in Advent, with one candle lit on the first Sunday, two on the second Sunday, and so on, until all four candles are lit on the fourth Sunday. The white center candle symbolizes Christmas Day and is lit on that day.

What is the History of the Christmas Card?

Christmas symbol trivia: People have been sending Christmas cards for over 150 years.
People have been sending
Christmas cards for over 150 years.

The time-honored tradition of sending Christmas cards began more than 150 years ago in England. Sir Henry Cole, a renaissance man who wrote and published books on art and architecture, was too busy to write holiday greetings to friends and family, so he asked John Callcott Horsley, a well-known painter, to design a card with a single message that could be sent to everyone on his list.

Horsley created a lithographed, hand-colored sketch printed on cardboard. The illustration depicted a classic Victorian Christmas scene of a family merrily eating and drinking. The caption read, "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You."

The first Christmas card appeared in the United States in the mid-1800s, when New York engraver Richard Pease designed a card with a small Santa Claus, a sleigh, and reindeer.

In 1875, Louis Prang, who wrote and published architectural books, printed images in color with a series of lithographic zinc plates. The finished product resembled an oil painting. These cards were so in demand that Prang couldn't fulfill all of his orders. At one point Prang was printing five million cards a year. His efforts earned him the moniker, "The Father of the American Christmas Card."

Today, everything from clever verses and holiday scenes to geometric designs and sports figures grace the fronts of cards. An average U.S. household mails out 28 Christmas cards each year and receives the same number in return. More than three billion Christmas cards are sent annually.

As we've learned, the Christmas symbols often hold religious significance. Test your religious Christmas trivia about the meaning of the nativity scene, the word "Xmas," and the Good King Wenceslas in the next section.