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The origins of the symbols of Christmas

The birth of Jesus Christ is a date that is celebrated around the world. The greatest symbols of the date are trees [1], the stable [2], and someone children love:  Father Christmas [3]. Here we detail the origin of these symbols


Merry Christmas.  This is the phrase English speakers use with friends and family. In England, a lot of people also say Happy Christmas.  In Spanish it is “Feliz Navidad”, in French, “Joyeux Noel” and in Italian “Buon Natale”.  The languages are different but in all Christian countries Christmas traditions and symbols are the same. Brazilians normally spend Christmas with their families, which is the same as in Europe and throughout the Americas. The tradition of giving presents to friends and relations [4]  is also very common. Christmas symbols are also the same in Brazil, Europe, the USA and even in countries where Christianity is not the predominant religion - symbols such as trees, the stable, and Father Christmas.  Here we explain the origins of these symbols.


Father Christmas – Saint Nicholas was a bishop [5] who lived in ancient Turkey, four centuries after Christ. He was deeply saddened [6] by the suffering he saw amongst his people, who were very poor. Legend [7] has it that at the end of every year he would give out food and presents to the people, especially children. The figure of Father Christmas was inspired by this generous saint.


Tree – The tradition of decorating trees began in Germany, in the 16th Century. For the Germans the trees symbolized the renewal [8] of life and the birth of Christ. German families decorated their trees with colored paper, fruit and sweets.  The tree chosen to be decorated was the pine [9].


The stable  – The first nativity scene was created in Italy in 1223. Saint Francisco de Assis wanted to celebrate Christmas in a memorable way. He had the idea of putting [10] together the scene of Jesus’ birth. Saint Francisco then used a stable and placed an image of the baby Jesus in it, surrounded by real animals.



1 tree – aqui = árvore de Natal

2 the stable  (Nativity scene) – presépio

3 Father Christmas (or Santa Claus) – Papai Noel

4 relations (the same as “relatives”) - parentes

5 bishop – bispo

6 deeply saddened – muito entristecido

7 legend has it that – exp. idiom = diz a lenda que

8 renewal – renovação

9 pine - pinheiro

10 to put together – aqui = recriar


Matéria publicada na edição de número 46 da Revista Maganews

Ilustração - Calberto