Discover the meaning behind iconic Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa symbols and traditions. 

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Our favorite icons of the holiday season herald Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, but they also represent family traditions and religious celebrations that have been followed for generations. Here’s the rich, secret history you may not have known about some of the season’s most beloved symbols — and how to highlight them in your own life.

Christmas Trees
Long before a green fir became the most recognizable symbol of Christmas, evergreens were thought to keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illnesses. The16th-century German Protestant reformer Martin Luther is believed to be the first person to add lighted candles to an indoor tree in an effort to recreate the beautiful vision of stars among the evergreens in nature. This year, don your own tree with the magical ALEX AND ANI Holiday Ornament Set of 3.

Dreidels
Each of the four sides of these pointed tops show a different Hebrew letter, which stands for a saying that means, “A great miracle occurred there.” The dreidel game dates back more than 2,000 years to the time of Greek-Syrian rule over Israel, when Jewish children studied the Torah in hiding, as it was outlawed. If a Greek soldier approached, the children pulled out their tops so as to appear to be playing games.

Candy Canes
There are different theories about these festive mint candies, but hard candy sticks were popular as far back as the 17th century. However, a candy maker from Georgia named Bob McCormack gets credit for making candy canes as we now know them. He first made them for friends and family in the 1920s and then eventually sold them through his company, Bob’s Candies. For a sweet touch, add a candy cane to a gift-wrapped Ugly Sweater Charm Bangle — 20% of the purchase price of this piece will go to support the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.

Hanukkah Gelt
Prior to the 19th century in Eastern Europe, gold coins called gelt were given out as year-end tips to teachers and shopkeepers. Over time, the customs switched from giving money to vendors to giving it to children. Today, adults give foil-wrapped chocolate coins to kids as a nod to this cultural tradition. Learn more about this and other customs from the Festival of Lights in 8 Traditions for the 8 Days of Hanukkah.

Bells
In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey and his daughter Zuzu both learn that “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” Bells are incorporated into many religions, but are often associated with Christianity and are linked to 5th century Ireland, when St. Patrick used them to gather people together to hear God’s word. Wear a music note on the Sweet Melody Charm Bangle to honor your favorite sounds of the season.

The Unity Cup
The “kikombe cha umoja” unity cup traditionally holds water, juice, or wine during Kwanzaa. (Read more about the history of Kwanzaa here.) Before sipping, the eldest person at the celebration pours out a bit to honor and remember their ancestors — and then the cup is passed around to each guest.

North Star
The Star of Bethlehem figures prominently in the biblical story of Christ’s birth: Three wise men followed a bright star they had seen in the east until they found the baby Christ laying in the manger. Gift or wear our North Star jewelry to help keep you and your loved ones safe on your travels during the holidays and throughout the year.

Written by Diana Kelly

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