Cullman Tradition Christmas Symbols Highlighting Expressions of Faith By DAVID PALMER C hristmas may come only once a year, but the symbols of the holiday are a familiar reminder of why the humble birth of a child is celebrated. What Christmas tree would be complete without a star atop? Who doesn’t stop to contemplate the beauty of a man- ger scene? While the star and manger are common as decora- tions, they also carry special meaning in the church as part of the observance of Christ’s birth. Father Joel Martin at St. Bernard Abbey has long been associated with the planning of worship services for Christmas, noting that the symbols present an opportu- nity for teaching and reflection. “St. Francis of Assisi is credited with having brought the manger scene into Christmas,” Martin said. “It was a Cath- olic thing at first, but you see manger carvings or even live manger scenes at many churches and places now.” A typical manger depiction shows the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, animals, shepherds, three kings, and often an angel. Explaining the figures takes just a few minutes of reading the Bible to know that an angel heralded the birth of Jesus to shepherds watching over their flocks. With no place available to lodge, a manger was offered to Joseph and Mary, placing the Son of God in lowly sur- roundings at his birth. “The three kings are also represented, even though we know from the Bible they arrived sometime later,” Martin 34 Cullman magazine | WINTER 2018 said. “But the manger shows all the participants or those present for the birth of Christ. The manger is a popular part of Christmas. Everybody is moved by a baby.” In some churches, it is appropriate to take a piece of straw from the manger to connect with Jesus and the coming of salvation, Martin added. Aside from the manger, the brightly adorned Christmas tree is found in nearly home and busi- ness or town square. “It probably came from earlier times before Christianity, but the church saw significance in it,” Martin said. “In the dead of winter, this type of tree is alive, a symbol of hope and new life.” The crowning star on the tree symbolizes how the three kings of the east were alerted to the birth of Christ. The Bible tells that they followed the light to Bethlehem to bring gifts to the child. In the church, the wood of the tree also carries significance.