The most visible sign that Christmas is approaching is the appearance, usually from early December, of Christmas decorations. By far, the most obvious of these is the Christmas tree followed by the Christmas wreath, Nativity scenes, stars, lighting, tinsel, baubles and novelty children’s toys.
Many decorations have history in the Christian faith and relate to the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. For example, the traditional wreath is a circle of green branches, often of conifer origin but also, in Australia, using eucalypt branches. The evergreen of the branches in a circle represents eternity. In churches, the wreath holds four or five candles that are lit individually at intervals during Advent. Many families put wreaths on the front doors of their homes.
Stars are a big feature of Christmas and are symbolic of the star that lead the wise men from the east to visit the new baby Jesus. Baubles have no specific religious significance but seem to have been first produced in Germany by glassblowers in the 16th century. Around that time, Germany also created the first-known tinsel… from very fine, and very real, silver!
Nativities are displayed in homes, businesses, town centres and schools, and in every size and shape. A Nativity is representations of a stable with various figures from the Christmas story – Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, some barn animals, and often some wise men and camels.
Many families decorate the outside of their homes, often on a massive scale. TV and radio stations often run competitions to discover the best decorated home in a suburb or town. More and more as a new tradition, families embark on Christmas light hunting in the evenings in December, or even follow a recommended path to view the most imaginatively decorated homes.
Although many decorations have lost their original meanings, Christmas decorations still create an atmosphere of expectation and excitement leading up to Christmas Day.
Decorations are usually removed by Epiphany on 6 January, although many are packed away by the end of December.