"The true meaning of Christmas" is a phrase that has been used since the middle of the 19th century. It's often given vaguely religious overtones suggesting that the "true meaning of Christmas" is a celebration of the Nativity of Christ but, in pop culture, usage of overt religious references are mostly avoided and the "true meaning" is taken to be a sort of introspective and benevolent attitude as opposed to the commercialization of Christmas.
The tradition of modern gift exchanging was popularized after the publication of the poem "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" in 1822 by American Clement C. Moore and is considered to be largely responsible for some of the conceptions of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today. Prior to the poem, Christian ideas about St. Nicholas and other Christmastide visitors varied considerably.
It wasn't long after the poem's publication that people started to question the "true meaning of Christmas" as in Charles Dicken's classic tale," A Christmas Carol" (1843) and Harriet Beecher Stowe's story "Christmas; or, the Good Fairy".
The topic hit its stride through film and television with shows like "A Charlie Brown Christmas", which first aired in 1965 and the 1966 animated TV special "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". The phrase and the associated morale became used as the theme in numerous Christmas films since the 1960s.
This Christmas season we've sat down and watched a number of these "True Meaning” classics and enjoyed them all over again. "It's A Wonderful Life", "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" (the Jim Carrey film version, of course), "Scrooged" with Bill Murray and many more. It also helps to have grandchildren to share these stories with while we revisit the shows that we have been watching for years.
We even got to watch a live version played out for us by the elementary school children of Dr. Isman Elementary School in Wolseley. Our five-year-old grandson, Treyton, is in the kindergarten class and he, his classmates and the entire K-to-grade-6 student body performed songs and acted out a musical skit with the "True Meaning" theme. It was great! The performance ended with the play's Santa Claus character stating that gift giving isn't always Commercialism and can be very rewarding in itself and only lusting after gifts for one's self is not in keeping with the "True Meaning" of Christmas.
Our family is excited to share another Christmas season together and celebrate the birth of Christ with all of our traditions in place whether it be the gift opening on Christmas morning or the turkey dinner or the games or the odd eggnog or two but we won't be debating the "True Meaning" of Christmas around our house as we will be living it.
From our family to yours have a very, very Merry Christmas!!
"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 American magazine, vol. 28 (1889):