Robert believes that invaluable insight comes by examining the traditions of various cultures, institutions, and individuals.
What Are Chrismon Ornaments?
Chrismons are white and gold ornaments fashioned in the forms of centuries-old religious symbols. They originated in the Ascension Lutheran Church, part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Existing as one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, the ELCA has about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Its members practice Lutheranism, the largest branch of Protestantism, which identifies with the teachings of Martin Luther.
Who Was Martin Luther?
Martin Luther was a 16th-century German reformer. Born in 1483, Luther's efforts to reform the church's theology and practice launched the Protestant Reformation. Before he died in 1546, Martin Luther produced numerous books, sermons, letters, essays, and hymns.
His writings expressed his overwhelming confidence in the promise of God's liberating mercy in Jesus Christ. Over 400 years after Luther's death, a follower of his teachings created something that revived ancient Christian symbolism and penetrated denominational barriers.
Frances Kipps Spencer and Birth of Chrismon Ornaments
Born to missionary parents in Karuizawa, Japan, on July 8, 1917, Frances Kiku Kipps Spencer was three years old when her family returned to the United States. Her father, a Lutheran minister, served in various cities and towns in Pennsylvania.
In 1957 at the age of forty, concerned about the appropriate decorations for her church Christmas tree, Mrs. Spencer made the first Chrismon ornaments for the Ascension Lutheran Church of Danville, VA. Based on ancient monograms, the designs included Greek symbol abbreviations and crosses that honored Jesus Christ and His teachings.
Mrs. Spencer chose the White and Gold colors to represent Christ's purity and God's majesty. The evergreen tree backdrop symbolizes the eternal life Christ offers his followers. The tree's white lights proclaim Christ's role as the Light of the world.
The Smithsonian Institute has housed several Chrismon trees, and many Ascension Lutheran Churches erect a 20'–24' tree open to visitors during the fall and winter holiday season. Mrs. Spencer created her ornaments using motifs that Christians had been using for thousands of years.
24 Examples of Chrismon Ornaments
Mrs. Spencer's ornament designs, called "Chrismons," cross denominational lines and are still cherished as religious Christmas decorations by many. Below are 24 common Chrismon ornaments and discussions of their meanings.
1. 3D Creator's Star (Six Points)
The six-pointed star, called the Star of David, is a reminder of the six days of creation (Exodus 20:1). The two triangles that form the star symbolize the Holy Trinity.
2. Alpha and Omega
The Greek alphabet's first and last letters are called Alpha and Omega. They signify that Jesus is the beginning and the end of all things. The Holy Bible's final book, Revelation, reveals that Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the Word, meaning, the First Word through whom all things came into being, and the Last Word by whom all receive judgment. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (Revelation 1:8 NIV).
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The Angel Chrismon represents the messengers of God, who announced the birth and Resurrection of Christ.
4. Beaded Fish
Persecuted followers of Christ used the symbol of a fish as a sign to identify themselves secretly. The initials (IXOYC), the Greek word for fish, represented Jesus Christ, God's Son, and the Savior.
The primary purpose of ringing church bells is to let worshippers know when to assemble. The "joyful noise" of the bells signifies God's presence in the world. In the Old Testament, God instructed gold bells to be alternated with pomegranates and sewn into the high priest's, Aaron's, robe hem to announce when he entered and come out of the sanctuary. "Aaron must wear it when he ministers. The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the Lord and when he comes out so that he will not die" (Exodus 28:35 NIV).
The butterfly is the symbol of resurrection. The three stages of the butterfly's metamorphosis symbolize the Life, Death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
7. Celtic Cross
Originating from the Celts of Ireland, the Circle symbolizes eternity or the unity of man.
8. Chi Rho in Sun
Chi Ro (XP) is a Greek symbol for Christ. "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.'" (John 8:12 NIV).
9. Crosses of Crucifixion
The middle cross is pointed and represents the spear that pierced Christ's side. The crucifixion symbolizes the victory over suffering and death.
10. Crown of Seven Peaks
The Crown represents the Kingship of Jesus Christ and His place of honor at the right hand of God. Seven symbolizes completeness and perfection. The seven-point Crown highlights the number seven, which is used 735 times in the Bible. The seven points remind us of Christ's complete and perfect victory over sin and death. "I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown" (Revelation 3:11 NIV).
11. Gold Crown of Thorns
The Gold Crown represents the suffering of Christ. "The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, 'Hail, king of the Jews!' And they slapped him in the face'" (John 19:2–3 NIV).
12. Gold Star of David
The five-pointed star, or Epiphany Star, announces the birth of Christ. A prophecy from the Old Testament told that "A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel" (Numbers 24:17 NIV). Jacob fathered twelve sons who became the tribes of Israel.
13. "I Am the Life"/Floral Glory Orb
The Flower symbolizes the Creation and the Messianic Promise stating that Jesus Christ is the way to Heaven.
14. Jacob's Well
Jacob's well was located outside of the town of Sychar and was on Jacob's land. During a long journey, Jesus stopped at that well for water. The pause provided Jesus with an opportunity to present Himself as the life-giving Messiah to a Samaritan woman. Jesus provides His children with "living water" in a spiritual wasteland. The life Jesus gives satisfies all our needs and gives us eternal life.
15. Latin Cross
The Latin Cross is the most common form of the Cross. This Cross is a reminder of Jesus's suffering, which provides the gift of Eternal Life.
16. Lily of the Valley
Lilies of the Valley appear in several Christian Bible stories. Some people proclaim that lilies of the valley grew at the Cross's foot, where Mary's tears fell. The Lily's color, white, represents the purity of Christ. Because of its drooping head, the Lily is also a symbol of the humility of Jesus. An expression of Christ's Advent, the Lily of the Valley sprouts in early spring.
17. New Gold Star
The star with five points announces the birth of Christ. A prophecy from the Old Testament foretells, "A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel" (Numbers 24:17 NIV). Jacob fathered twelve sons, which became the tribes of Israel. Jesus was of the tribe of Judah.
18. Pearl Crown of 10 Commandments
The Crown Chrismon symbolizes the Kingship of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings. The ten points on the Crown represent the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God.
19. Pearl Eternal Circle
The Circle symbolizes Eternity, God the Eternal One, God's eternal love, and eternal life with God.
20. Resurrection Cross
With The Rising Sun behind the Cross, the Resurrection Cross Christmon symbolizes a new day. This ornament brings to mind the promise of the Forgiveness of Sin.
21. Tau Cross With Snake
The Tau Cross, the oldest form of the Cross, reveals that similar to Moses' lifting of a Bronze Serpent to save Israel, Christ saved humanity after being raised on a cross.
22. Trefoil Cross With Dove
The Three Budded Clover of The Budding Cross or the Cross of Baptism symbolizes the Trinity and represents a Young or New Believer. Represented by the Dove, The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at the time of His Baptism. "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment, Heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him" (Matthew 3:16 NIV).
23. Triquetra (Triangle)
The Christmon, with three equal arcs, expresses eternity in its continuous form and indivisibility in its interweaving. It symbolizes the One God who showed Himself to humanity in three separate and distinct persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
24. Wheat and Grapes in Circle
Representing the communion meal elements, the combination of the wheat and grapes is bread and wine, symbolizing the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The ritual recreates and honors the last meal that Christ had with his disciples before crucifixion and death. It is also used as a representation of a fruitful harvest and to symbolize abundance.
Standing in front of a tree full of Chrismon decorations is truly a captivating experience. Because they symbolize the name and nature of Christ, Chrismons are used during Advent to decorate the main tree in many church sanctuaries. Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, includes the four preceding Sundays. When you discover the meaning of Chrismon ornaments, you cross denominational lines and embrace the heritage of God's pure love.
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- Staff, T. (2019, December 02). Symbols of Christ: Chrismon tree decorations hold true spirit of holiday. Retrieved from https://thetandd.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/symbols-of-christ-chrismon-tree-decorations-hold-true-spirit-of-holiday/article_a4b1849c-2cd3-11e1-9ce0-0019bb2963f4.html
- The Other Symbols. https://frunner.org/article/The+Other+Symbols
- Wheat & Grapes in Circle. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.etsy.com/listing/239605266/wheat-grapes-in-circle
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Robert Odell Jr