“Christmas is all about love, family and children. It doesn’t matter what we eat or what presents we get as long as the holidays are spent with loved ones.” What is this? “The best gift that one could wish for underneath the Christmas tree, is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”
The true meaning of Christmas is a phrase that began to appear in the mid-19th century when a shift toward a more secular culture resulted in a national backlash. Christians began to see the secularization of the celebration day of the birth of Christ as the shift toward Santa Claus and gift exchanging replaced the celebration of the advent of Christ and giving to the poor and needy without expectation of receiving anything in return. The poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (1822) helped popularize the tradition of exchanging gifts, and seasonal Christmas shopping began to assume economic importance. Harriet Beecher Stowe criticizes the commercialization in her story “Christmas; or, the Good Fairy”. And well, I agree with him. An early expression of this sentiment using the phrase of “the true meaning” is found in The American Magazine, vol. 28 (1889): “to give up one’s very self – to think only of others – how to bring the greatest happiness to others – that is the true meaning of Christmas.”
The phrase is especially associated with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), in which an old miser named Ebeneezer Scrooge is taught the true meaning of Christmas by three ghostly visitors who review his past and foretell his future.
The topic was taken up by satirists such as Stan Freberg and Tom Lehrer during the 1950s and eventually by the influential TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas, first aired in 1965 and repeated every year since. In the special, Charlie Brown becomes stressed by the preparations and social expectations of holiday rather than becoming excited, much to his confusion. His best friend Linus van Pelt eventually clarifies the actual meaning of the holiday through reciting the Annunciation to the Shepherds near the end of the program. Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957) also illustrates the topic, and was very influential in the form of an animated TV special produced in 1966. The phrase and the associated moral became used as a trope in numerous Christmas films since the 1960s.
The phrase found its way into the 2003 Urbi et Orbi address of Pope John Paul II, “The crib and the tree: precious symbols, which hand down in time the true meaning of Christmas!”
Christmas is a celebration, a time for giving and not simply a day we exchange gifts. The spirit of Christmas is in the ‘togetherness’, it’s in the thought to which you put into thinking about others, it’s a selfless time, where we forgive, take stock of what’s important and become ‘better’ versions of ourselves.
Christmas is not about the Savior’s infancy; it is about His deity. The humble birth of Jesus Christ was never intended to conceal the reality that God was being born into the world.
But the modern world’s version of Christmas does just that. And consequently for the greater part of humanity, Christmas has no legitimate meaning at all.
I don’t suppose anyone can ever fathom what it means for God to be born in a manger. How does one explain the Almighty stooping to become a tiny infant? Our minds cannot begin to understand what was involved in God’s becoming man.
Nor can anyone explain how God could become a baby. Yet He did. Without forsaking His divine nature or diminishing His deity, He was born into our world as a tiny infant.
He was fully human, with all the needs and emotions that are common to us all. Yet He was also fully God–all wise and all powerful.
For nearly 2,000 years, debate has been raging about who Jesus really is. Cults and skeptics have offered various explanations. They’ll say He is one of many gods, a created being, a high angel, a good teacher, a prophet, and so on. The common thread of all such theories is that they make Jesus less than God. But the biblical evidence is overwhelming that this child in the manger was the incarnation of God.
One passage in particular, written by the apostle Paul, captures the essence of Jesus’ divine nature and underscores the truths that make Christmas truly wonderful.
In the busyness and chaos of presents, tinsel and trees, it can sometimes be tricky to take a moment to appreciate what the true meaning of Christmas is. Of course Christmas will mean different things to different people. For some, it is a break or holiday, for others Christmas has deep religious significance and there is of course, no right or wrong. For some Christmas means togetherness, for others loneliness.
While the giving of gifts is a beautiful tradition, due to the increased commercialisation and focus on gift-giving over recent decades, Christmas in many cases, has been reduced to getting what you want, or the expense of the gift. In addition to gift-giving, Christmas can be a wonderful occasion to connect to the “true spirit” of Christmas. It can be about communion, togetherness, forgiveness, a new start and the magic of remembering what is really important:
Christmas is celebrated by billions of people all over the world as a religious and cultural ceremony. In the Christian religion, the true meaning of Christmas is to remember the birth of Christ. It is also a reminder that our true nature is one of peace and harmony and to practice goodwill to all men, not only at Christmas but throughout the entire year. Christmas signifies to many that we are all connected, and even if we are not physically with someone, we are not alone. We are in fact, all part of one big family, the family of humanity, with all its imperfections and great beauty.
Christmas often inspires us to be charitable, wanting to reach out and be involved with the community, lending a helping hand wherever we can. In Sydney Australia, a few weeks before Christmas, it is impossible to volunteer at any charity to help with Christmas lunch, as all places are oversubscribed with volunteers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this Christmas spirit flowed onto the rest of the year too?
When it comes to giving gifts, it is wonderful to make someone else happy while giving you the added benefit of being happy, as you share their joy. Another way to give, is to give people your full attention by being fully “there” or present for them. You listen to them with compassion and empathy while seeing the best in them. The gift of love and support is one of the most generous gifts you can give.
The true meaning of Christmas can be the gathering together with the people you love. This could be your immediate family, extended family, friends or with complete strangers.
The true meaning of Christmas can extend to your global family. It can be inviting someone who is lonely, an elderly neighbour, someone who is homeless or a refugee over for lunch or Christmas dinner. Sharing love and joy and connecting with our fellow human beings no matter who they are, is what the true spirit of Christmas is all about.
Underlying family tensions can be brought to the surface at Christmas when people are overtired and stressed from Christmas preparations. Alcohol thrown into the mix often does not help. What is meant to be a glorious, peaceful and loving day, can turn into a hotbed of emotions. Ideally, any tensions can be worked through and possibly bring people closer together. Forewarned is forearmed, so to avoid those tensions at the Christmas table see How to Get Along During the Holiday Season.
Christmas can be a time to reflect upon your learnings and look at ways to do things differently going forward. It can be a time to be proud of all that you have done and to make a commitment to do more of the things that are working for you and that you love to do. Life is to be enjoyed.