What is the true meaning of Christmas? Does anyone really know?


It is around this time of the year that many of us start asking the question “What is the true meaning of Christmas.”  I am sure that for those who do ponder this question, the inquiry is no doubt prompted by an assortment of stimuli.  For example:   Black Friday, Cyber Monday, shop till you drop lists, Toys for Tots, Christmas countdowns, gift rages, children meltdowns, commercials, jingles and endless exhortations to buy that special gift that will truly show someone your love.

My first caveat must be humble.  Many have tried to answer this question before me.  I am nowhere near the first nor do I assume the last who will ever tackle this issue.  Thus, I thrust my opinion where no doubt many wiser have gone before and many wiser will go after.  If I merely offer you some new insights into the age old question, I will have accomplished my goal.  Perhaps I can see things in a slightly different perspective than all the wise people who have already treaded on this question.

I am going to break the key question “What is the true meaning of Christmas?” into three parts or three sub-questions.

The first sub-question is “Why do we celebrate Christmas?”  The answer is obvious.  A man named Jesus was born on or near this date in the time of the Roman occupation of Israel.  He is alternately revered as a great prophet, the son of God, the Messiah or a humble man with a simple but profound message.

The second sub-question is “What should we celebrate at Christmas?”  The most common means of celebrating the life of a great person is to remember what they stood for.  Jesus IMHO stood for two major ideas which were radical in his time.  The first major idea was to “Love Everyone.”  This meant you needed to love your enemies as well as your friends.  The second major idea was to “Forgive Everyone.”   Again, not just forgiveness for your friends and relatives but also for those you hated and your mortal enemies.   Thus, at Christmastime, Christians and those who wish to venerate Jesus of Nazareth should be celebrating both Love and Forgiveness.  We see many manifestations of the first at this time of the year but much less focus on the second.  This will be more evident when we look at the third sub-question:  “How do we Celebrate Christmas?” 

“How do we celebrate Christmas?”   How do we take the two major ideas that Jesus stood for and remember them.  Each concept could be honored in a variety of ways.  The primary way that we seem to express the idea of Love is through the giving of gifts.  We can give gifts of the spirit or gifts of the world.  Gifts of the spirit express our love for others by giving some of ourselves.  We give some immaterial expression of love to others that we care about.  We might choose to spend time with a love one or simply help them out with a project or task that needs doing.

We also give physical or material gifts.  These include toys, gadgets, technology, clothes, jewelry etc.  Material gifts express our love by transferring our money into presents for others based on their perceived wants and needs.  It is most common to see gifts given based on wants but needs are sometimes factored into the gift giving equation.  One could posit a hierarchy of gift giving, going from easiest to give to most difficult.  I think it would look something like this:

  • Material gifts based on wants (easy)
  • Material gifts based on needs (more difficult)
  • Spiritual gifts based on wants (difficult)
  • Spiritual gifts based on needs (very difficult)

It is not always easy to distinguish between wants and needs, particularly when dealing with children who often confuse the two.  The good parent should be able to tell the difference, but all too often parents are more interested in simply satisfying their child’s wants rather than dealing with their child’s needs.  The Love of Jesus becomes a love focused on completing a shopping list of wants.   Little attention is spent on needs while even less time is spent on spiritual gifts.  It is easier to buy a gift card then to spend time with a friend or loved one.

How do we deal at Christmastime with the second major idea that Jesus promoted, the idea that we should Forgive others?  This idea does not seem to have seriously entered the panoply of displays that we see or that are observed at this time of the year.  Somehow, Forgiveness gets forgotten at Christmas time.  A cynic might wonder if it is not because this is the hardest idea to implement.  Can you imagine sending a beautiful gift of flowers or jewelry to someone you loath and detest?  Can you imagine spending time with someone you hate or giving some gift of the spirit to someone you dislike?   I submit that such demonstrations of Forgiveness would be unusual for most Christians as well as non-Christians.

So “What is the true meaning of Christmas?”  After dicing and slicing this question what are we left with?  A short summary of the main points addressing this question might help:

  • We celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a great prophet, teacher and to some God.
  • Jesus’s mission and purpose was to teach us Love and Forgiveness
  • We attempt to celebrate his concept of Love during the time we think he was born
  • We substitute gift giving for more substantive displays of Love or more difficult expressions of the concept
  • We leave out or neglect Jesus’s concept of Forgiveness

Perhaps this Christmas, we can all try to do more Forgiveness.  If there is a “True Meaning of Christmas”, if Jesus was alive today to, I am sure he would be most pleased if we spent more time trying to love our enemies as well as our friends and to forgive those who “Trespass against us.”  

Time for Questions:

What is your “meaning” for Christmas?  How do you celebrate the birth of Jesus?  What could you do more of this year to truly celebrate his message?  What can we do to help make Forgiveness part of the Christmas message?

Life is just beginning.

“How many observe Christ’s birthday!  How few, His precepts!” ― Benjamin Franklin

“And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


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