Centuries ago Christians brought plants and flowers into the celebration of Christmas, for did not Christ come to uphold the dignity of all God's creation? The natural world, as well as humans, angels and animals, should have a part in welcoming him.
Evergreens, from ancient times symbols of life and eternity, have always had a prominent place in Christian celebrations. Holly, with its green leaves, its prickly points and red berries, suggested that the Child born in the manger would wear a crown of thorns and shed drops of blood. Mistletoe, long associated in the pre-Christian world with healing, became a symbol of the healing power of Christ.
The poinsettia, from Central America, with its bright, star-like flowers, is a natural reminder of the Star of Bethlehem. Other plants that bloom during this season are images also of the Root of David that flowered with new life.
Many nations have contributed a rich mosaic of Christmas customs. Among the Latin peoples, the Christmas novena, nine days of prayer before Christmas, is a popular tradition. The Christmas meal after midnight Mass, in which all the family participates, is traditional among the French. Among the Slavic peoples on Christmas eve, the father of the family breaks the feastday wafers of bread and gives them to the members of his household, while wishing all the peace of Christmas.
From Ireland came the custom of placing lighted candles in the window during Christmastime. It originated in penal times when the Catholic religion was suppressed in Ireland and priests were forced into hiding. Irish families put a burning candle in their window and left their doors unlatched, hoping that a priest might come to their door and celebrate the Christmas Mass with them.
On the feast of the Epiphany, January 6th, the people of South America celebrate the coming of the Three Kings with colorful processions and give gifts on that day.