The meaning of Christmas

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10 December 2006

I occasionally ask myself why I celebrate Christmas, because I don’t really focus on it as a celebration of the birth of Christ. The general answer that I give myself is “Christmas is about people,” and I’m very happy with that idea. But I’ve never thought it out, or written it down.

My mother, on the other hand, has. She apparently got into an email conversation with someone who isn’t giving gifts for Christmas because they feel that it is too commercial / expected / etc. (I don’t know the details.) Mom replied with a detailed writeup of how she felt about Christmas, and then forwarded bits of it on to me.

It’s quite impressive, so (with her permission) I’m quoting it here, for anyone who needs it. (She’s a teacher, so she mentions the school(s) that she teaches at occasionally.)

From mom:

In my world, Christmas is really all about giving. Whether it’s wrapped in the Christian beliefs of Christ is almost secondary. I certainly know many, many people who worship Christmas as a celebration of Christ’s birth. I also know many who believe in that celebration and have broadened their perspective to include, or at least increase their knowledge of, many other religious belief systems and celebrations. Almost everyone I know uses this season as a reminder to give to those who have less than they do. The number of food drives and clothing and toy drives held at my schools is huge. Families are adopted, gifts are bought that families have shared that they need, and food is delivered. At [one of my schools], where so many of our families are struggling, I watched a mom bring in 8 bags of canned foods and deliver them among the classrooms of her 4 boys yesterday for our building food drive. Christmas is the time that reminds us to do these things.

It’s also about tradition. No matter what the traditions are surrounding the holidays, they are important. They certainly have to be open to adaptation and change as families grow and change, but common threads need to remain. I believe they are critical to holding together the fabric of who we are.

In my world, traditional Christmas Carols are still sung at school along with more secular music. [My kids’ high school] Senior Choir still sang the Messiah when my kids were there and you can still hear or sing along with it and other Christmas musical selections at any number of venues and churches around town.

Trappings of the holidays bring smiles. Lighted Christmas trees and homes add light to long winter nights. Wreaths and red bows add color against the drab of winter. Candles in windows are warm and welcoming.

And then there are the gifts. I know it’s often all too commercial, but it is, ultimately, whatever you make of it. My belief is that gifts are about showing that you love others enough to spend the time, thought and hard earned money on finding things that will make them happy. It’s an opportunity to show, in a tangible way, how much your family and friends mean to you.

There are also the parties – staff parties to give the people with whom you work a chance to get to know each other for a short while outside of the work routine – friend parties to just enjoy each other’s company – family parties to remember to stay close and to catch up with one another.

But most of all, to me, it is about taking the time to think of those who you care about and letting them know that you’re thinking about them. Whether it be in the form of a card, a gift, a donation, a visit or whatever. It’s a reminder to make that time.

You mentioned no Christmas day church services. None of the churches I have ever been associated with have had Christmas Day services. We always had a beautiful Christmas Eve candlelight service that was well attended but Christmas Day was considered a time for families to spend together but not in church.

I could go on and on and on. I really do believe in the spirit of Christmas and believe that it is all around us if you choose to notice.

Thanks mom, for letting me publish that.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

  1. Matt says:

    Wow! Just wow. I’ve always known your mom was one very smart cookie, but it’s rare that I get to read anything she’s written. I read these two recent articles you posted backwards – the one about gifts first, and this one second. I wish I had read this one first.

    There’s not much I can say that would add value to what Marilyn already admonished, but she hits on two huge Christmas topics that transcend all the others – 1.) Christmas emphasizes the importance of helping those less fortunate, and 2.) Christmas provides a gentle reminder that we need to form traditions and memories with our families and friends that will last generations. The first is how we give in the “now”, and the second is how we give for the future. God giving the world His only begotten son is the ultimate model of sacrificial giving, and is the inspiration for the season.

    The only sentiment I found missing from her excerpt is the strong tie between Christmas and “peace”. Not just tree-hugging-hippie-60’s-peace, but true inner peace – just like how it must’ve been in that quiet stable where Mary & Joseph marveled at their newborn son in the manger and the miracle of the savior of the world coming to us so lowly and fragile.

    Two great posts! More! More!

  2. sean carter says:

    That is a beautiful passage and message as well. Loved reading it. Peep into my blog at for some unique gift ideas, home decor tips and loads of other interesting info.

  3. Nathan Arthur says:

    I almost deleted sean’s comment as spam, but I decided to check out the site first. It’s not actually a commercial site – it’s just sean, talking about lots, and lots, and lots of Christmas topics. So, sean, thanks for your reply!

  4. monica ulberg says:

    the things that you do are worth every moment of time with your family . although i am recently divorce i was left to take care of my kids .i know what the real meaning of christmas is i want them to learn that i also need them to know that mommy cannot afford it right now maybe one at a time sighned too proud to beg

  5. Ananth says:

    Dear all,

    I totally appreciate where “Mom’s” coming from, but I would like to reiterate that Christmas, other than celebrating Jesus’ physical birth, should be the harbinger of Christ in our own hearts. To realize that the almighty is within us, prompting us, guiding us and taking us along the path laid down by HIM is the essence of Christmas.
    May Christ give us the clarity of thought to imbibe the subtler truths of this joyous festival.

    Bangalore, India

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