5 holiday symbols and what they mean

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Canadians put up Christmas decorations after Halloween. You will see shiny and colourful holiday symbols everywhere.

Here are five-holiday symbols and their meanings:

Christmas tree

Did you know that trees were used as decoration before there was a Christmas? As early as 133-31 B.C., ancient Romans used it in winter festivals. Evergreens (pine, cedar, spruce, etc.) symbolized life and magic. This is because their leaves stayed green even in winter. Today, the Christmas tree is the most popular holiday symbol in Canada.

History of the Christmas tree:

  • 1510 – The first Christmas tree was seen in Riga, Latvia.
  • 1600s – Germans decorated their Christmas trees with paper roses, apples, candy and candles.
  • 1840s – Christmas trees became popular in Britain.
  • 1781- The first Christmas tree in North America was seen in Sorel, Quebec.

Fresh and plastic Christmas trees are used all over Canada. It is decorated with electric lights and ornaments. Canada exports 1.95 million fresh-cut Christmas trees to more than 20 countries all over the world.

Santa Claus

Santa Claus is based on St. Nicholas, a Turkish bishop. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of mariners, merchants, bakers, travellers and children in Greece, Germany and the Netherlands. The Dutch brought the idea of Saint Nicholas to the United States. The Dutch name Sante Klaas became Santa Claus.

In 1823, the poem “The Night Before Christmas” described Santa Claus as a fat, jolly man in a red suit. Soon, cartoons and advertisements showed Santa Claus on a sleigh pulled by reindeer, traveling the world in one night. It became a tradition for kids to leave a plate of cookies for Santa on Christmas eve.

Did you know that Santa’s Post Office is in Canada? Kids can send their letters to: Santa Claus, North Pole H0H 0H0, Canada. Send them before December 14 to get a reply. No postage is required for letters from Canada.


The mistletoe is a symbol of life and strength. Ancient Europeans say that it has powers of healing, fertility and love. This is why people kiss under the mistletoe. Watch the video below to know more about this tradition:

Why do we kiss under the mistletoe? Carlos Reif, TED-Ed

Snowflakes and snowmen

Snowflakes and snowmen are holiday symbols because Christmas is in winter in North America. There are many Christmas stories and carols about them. Examples are “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens and Frosty the Snowman.

Frosty the Snowman (with lyrics) sung by Gene Autry (KoyangiChick)


The nutcracker is a kitchen tool used to open nuts. Woodcarvers made them in the shape of soldiers, knights or kings in the 15th century. The Germans believed that nutcrackers brought good luck and protected homes.

Nutcrackers became Christmas decorations in modern times. This was when the story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” became a popular ballet in the 1950s. It is a fantasy story set during Christmas time and soon many households began decorating their mantels at Christmas with nutcracker soldiers. Ballet companies all over the world still perform The Nutcracker Ballet during the holidays. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet presents it every December (sadly, performances are cancelled this year due to COVID-19).

Lang Lang – The Nutcracker Suite (from the Nutcracker and the Four Realms), DisneyMusicVevo

Happy holidays!
Article updated November 16, 2021.
Sources: Religious symbolism of a secular Christmas, Christopher D. Cunningham, Third Hour; Christmas in Canada, James H. March, The Canadian Encyclopedia; The meaning of Christmas symbols, Sherri Osborn, the Spruce; Why do we kiss under the mistletoe? Carlos Reif, TED-Ed; Accessed November 11, 2019.

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