All across the U.S. there’s no denying that the Christmas spirit is now in full swing. With those neighbors showing off their unbeatable outdoor lighting displays, dealing with potentially awkward situations after work holiday parties, and gift lists from your kids carrying a price tag three times your budget, it’s sometimes hard to escape all of the fanfare and frenzy around us. And with this yearly tradition of spreading cheer by making sure that the spirit of the holiday can really be seen and felt, we sometimes gloss over what the decorations themselves are—and, more importantly, what they really mean.
Whether you’re on the steps of a Catholic church, standing outside a department store window display, or trekking through a snowy Christmas tree farm, when was the last time you took a moment to really think about what images we tend to associate with Christmas? For the more religious, you might think of Baby Jesus figurines or an intricately decorated nativity scene complete with the three wise men. If you have cartoons playing in the background on TV for the kids, you’ll probably be seeing lots of stories of Santa Claus in his red flowing hat and Rudolph with his red shiny nose. Regardless of whether the holiday has a more religious significance, or cultural significance, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the majority of these figures—who have come to be manifestations of Christmas—are male.
In Latin America, Christmas imagery isn’t necessarily as masculine. For many, the Christmas season doesn’t truly kick off until December 8—the day traditionally known as the Immaculate Conception. Because Christmas marks the day of Jesus’ birth in Christianity, many people confuse or overlook the real meaning of the day. It’s not the day that Jesus was conceived, but rather the day when his mother, Mary, was conceived by her mother. In its most religious sense, this day celebrates Mary being free from all sin. In a symbolic sense, it represents the notion that women are inherently pure and good.
And it doesn’t take a deep dive into the Bible to appreciate this holiday for what it symbolizes. For the places celebrating the Immaculate Conception, not only is a woman at the core of Christmas celebrations, but she actually kicks off the start of the season. Colombia and Ecuador, among other countries, light hundreds of candles to honor Mary—and celebrate women’s history as a part of Christmas history—on this day. By taking this Biblical tradition and turning it into a countrywide cultural event, perhaps these countries serve as examples for the rest of the world as Christmas gets underway. Even if you aren’t religious, I think we can all appreciate a woman joining the likes of the Baby Jesus figurines, shopping mall Santas, and red-nosed Rudolphs in those storefront displays to help us re-evaluate the symbols that we associate with Christmas.