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What Is Christmas Really About?

What is Christmas really about?

How do our children view Christmas?

My ten year old was frustrated. “Dad, they are saying that the true meaning of Christmas is to be with your family or to be generous, but that’s not what Christmas is all about.”

My five year old thought he knew better as well. “It’s about Jesus! What’s wrong with them?” He was yelling, but he too was right.

For some reason, we have watched the last generation attempt to make Christmas about really nice things, important things even, while at the same time doing their best to remove the actual historical reason for the celebration.

Family is important—obviously.

Generosity is important—there is no denying that.

But once we begin trading in a higher good for a lesser one, even if we are left holding something very good in our hands, we should all be offended at that. And thanks be to God, children actually are.

Let’s look at it from their point of view for a moment.

For some reason, we have watched the last generation attempt to make Christmas about really nice things, important things even, while at the same time doing their best to remove the actual historical reason for the celebration.

Christmas is really about stuff.

We know this as the commercialization of Christmas, but for children it simply means that Christmas is about getting things. And while that seems really neat at first, especially to those who need stuff, the child in the western world learns very quickly that there is a large gap between what they want and what they need. And if they don’t know the difference, well, we tend to depict these kinds of children in a negative light even in our holiday films.

Admittedly, I rarely meet an adult these days who is convinced that this is what Christmas is for.

Sure, the stores push stuff.

And we guilt each other into getting others stuff.

And we even come up with a list of stuff that we don’t need just so others have something to give us.

But no one actually believes that things under the tree make a good Christmas. And here is a great surprise, neither do children.

But that’s not what the media would have us believe.

Almost every movie I can think of depicts children who are, at one time or another, over the moon excited to see the presents under the tree. And there is always the scene, (It’s iconic now, isn’t it?) where the children rush down the stairs in the morning to open the presents. This is what we tell ourselves about the child’s experience. And though it is not completely wrong—after all, who doesn’t like to be thought of, loved, and receive a gift—we adults still get a nagging feeling about the whole thing.

“Perhaps,” we think to ourselves, “Yeah, maybe Christmas is about kids receiving gifts, kind of like Halloween is …”

No, that kind of Christmas is quite impotent. It looks at the end instead of the beginning, the result instead of the reason. And for children who stop even for a moment to think about it, it leaves them with a bad taste of eggnog in their mouth.

You see, children—when given half a chance or when encouraged if only a little bit—love to give just as much as we do.

But unlike most adults, children want to know the reason for doing so.

Thankfully though, the film industry has once again come to our rescue and provided that reason.

Christmas is really about family and generosity.

You know that holiday film that gets played over and over again, the one that teaches this “lesson,” where someone learns that Christmas is really about family and generosity? I like that film, I really do, but it is still not quite accurate, is it?

Our lives should be about family.

Our whole year should be lived generously.

But for some reason, the adults in this and the previous generation have decided that this really captures the spirit of what the day, nay the season, is all about.

And I must admit that on some level this makes complete sense.

After all, a starving man requires water and bread, not a feast.

What I mean is, if we are even tempted to believe that one of the greatest moments in human history—the literal birth of the Saviour of the world—can be reduced to a series of bargain shopping, then refocusing on family and generosity may be a step in the right direction.

But for the children still encouraged to be free and critical thinkers, even this hardly passes the test. And that’s because kids ask honest questions, good questions, the kind of questions that we adults hate for them to pose because they challenge the status quo.

“Shouldn’t we be kind all year round?”

“Shouldn’t we want to be with our family as often as possible?”

“Shouldn’t we …?”

“Shhhhh …” that’s the adult response. And it offends the intelligence of children greatly.

Kids understand that there is always a choice to be kind or not, or to be giving or not.

What’s more is that they understand that this choice should be motivated by our reasoning—by how we see the world.

That’s why they ask and will continue to ask until they either learn to conform or not care:

What is Christmas really about?

Is it about getting more stuff?

Is it a special time we have mutually agreed upon where everyone should be nice?

Or is it about an event that took place two thousand years ago; an event that changed how we see the world and everyone in it?

That’s the real answer.

And children everywhere are asking you to give it.

in Christ,



Patrick Sullivan is a Catholic Speaker and the President of Evango, a Catholic Media Organization that seeks to build a culture of Catholic evangelization and missionary discipleship. Patrick travels internationally to speak at Catholic events, parenting conferences, and to lead retreats and parish renewal missions. He is the creator and host of Me & My House, the Catholic parenting program that is transforming how we minister to parents in our dioceses, parishes, and communities. Patrick lives in beautiful Barry’s Bay, Ontario with his loving wife, Kyla, and their nine children.

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