Redbirds, also known as northern cardinals, are often seen in backyards throughout Mississippi and many other states this time of year. They’re also known as the “Christmas bird” and appear on holiday cards, ornaments, and decor throughout the holiday season.
So, how did the redbird become associated with the holiday season? The legend begins with the color red, a hue with many Christmastime connections.
Cardinals often visit in winter, making it easy to associate them with the holiday season. Cardinals don’t migrate and molt, so their vibrant red color is breathtaking in winter’s backyards. This lively pop of color in our diverse Mississippi landscape can also signify hope and a reminder that spring is coming.
According to the Farmers’ Almanac, northern cardinals are associated with legends across various cultures and religions. The Almanac explains how cardinals received their moniker, writing, “When European settlers arrived in North America, they noticed these birds’ bright red hue and how closely it resembled the red vestments of Roman Catholic leading bishops. The birds’ connection with the color red gave them their name. These religious associations may have also helped to make the cardinal an iconic holiday bird. Of course, their eye-catching red color also makes it easy to associate them with Christmas.”
The most famous association with the holidays and cardinals is that they have long been symbols of loved ones who have passed away. It is a common belief that a cardinal represents a sign, or a message, from a loved one. This particular belief cannot be traced to a specific origin; however, many cultures believe that the sighting of a redbird symbolizes a heavenly visitor. How very appropriate that a red bird would be seen during the holidays when we often think of our loved ones who are no longer with us.
Redbirds hold many symbolic connections during the holiday season and beyond. Of course, their meaning at Christmastime differs from individual to individual, but these frequent visitors are vibrant and beautiful, nonetheless.
Whether in your backyard or on a holiday decoration, the next time you see a northern cardinal this winter, take the opportunity to reflect on what the redbird means to you.