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Symbols of Christmas

Ann Swanson

There are so many symbols of Christmas that it is hard to connect with just a few of them. I begin with the candy cane. It is said that the cane candy is a shepherd’s staff which if turned upside down is a “J” for Jesus, the baby born at Christmas that we celebrate. The red color stands for the blood which he shed for all of us. The white means he washed away our sins and made us white as snow. The stripes come directly from the bible reference “by his stripes we are healed”.

I remember teaching the children a little song about these things, years ago. I am going to do my best to come up with the words because they are so pertinent to the Christmas season. Please forgive me if I mess up some of the words:

My heart was black with sin

Until the Savior came in.

His precious blood I know

Has washed me white as snow.

And in his word, I am told

I’ll walk the streets of gold.

Oh wonderful, wonderful day

He washed my sins away.

We had a series of hearts that we used to help the children remember the words. It started out with a black heart, followed by a red heart, then a white heart. Another heart had the word Bible written on it. It ended with another white heart. I am not sure if the children really liked the song or if they liked the visuals we used.

Then, there is the legend of the rosemary. It begins “Rosemary, lily, lilac tree, kind in the dooryards thrive all three, but kindest of them is Rosemary.” It goes on to say that the lilac created a beautiful fragrance to welcome the Lord. The lily provided a cup for him. Only the rosemary had nothing to give.

When Mary washed the baby’s clothes, she looked for a place to hang them to dry. The lily broke under the weight of the clothing. The lilac was too tall. Only the strong rosemary held them.

From that time on the rosemary bore blue clusters to remind everyone of the blue cloak that Mary wore. Hence the saying “Rosemary, lily, lilac tree, sweet in doorways thrive all three, but the sweetest of them is Rosemary.

This is a legend that I had never heard before until I found it in an old copy of a book that I have. The book written by Phyllis McGinley was published in 1964. It is a treasure trove of information about Christmas legends and tales.

An Irish legend that was included reminded me of the loved ones who are gone. In my family, there are many who have died either just prior to Christmas or just after. I include this legend in memory of them.

“An Irish Legend:”

Whoever’s born on Christmas

Is favored from the start;

Has laughter and good fortune

And a contented heart;

Is loved by noble company,

Has all that should suffice.

But he that dies on Christmas

Goes straight to Paradise.

Thinking of those who left us can be sad, but I think this legend brings peace. While I have empty spots at my table, I think of them communing with all of the ancestors that went before them. We should be happy for them. Their aches and pains are gone. We, the ones left behind, still deal with suffering and death.

With all of the people that I lost near Christmas time, Christmas should be a sad time for me, but it is not. Each of those people brings happy memories. I remember how much my mother liked to give. When she won a prize from a local contest, she used her winnings to purchase something for everyone in the family. I still use the quilt rack she bought for my husband and me.

Grandma called the ambulance for herself since she could not awaken grandpa. I actually felt it at the time that my grandmother died. Grandma was a class act. That was certainly the way to go. Having watched other family members suffer, I prefer her method.

My uncle sang the Lord’s Prayer at my wedding. Aunt Evie was a sweetheart who always had a kind word for someone. Ida Grace, although not a blood relative, was a special friend. She vowed to be my daughter’s first client when she received her law degree. There was also a great-grandmother that I never knew. I have her molasses cookie recipe. Sorry, but I have tweaked it a little bit, Grandma, I like a little more spice to my ginger cookies.

My stepfather died the day after Christmas. He really suffered before he succumbed. We could not wish him back to be the way he was.

My mother-in-law died shortly before Christmas as well. Although she had a good and long life, it is never easy when you lose someone. I had a nice visit with her just days before her death. I had been to a luncheon and stopped on my way home. She told me she loved the dress I was wearing. That I will never forget.

May your Christmas bring memories of your family – those still with you as well as those who now rest from their labors. Take advantage of the time you spend together to share some of your memories with your family. The young people will never know these things unless you share them.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.

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