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True Meaning of Christmas: Family Traditions, Giving, and Children

Dan is a family man, having raised two children, and has long been interested in the cultural, political, and social roots of our society.

What's the true meaning of Christmas?

What's the true meaning of Christmas?

Christmas Meaning

I don't think there is any one true meaning of Christmas—rather, there are as many meanings as there are people. Yes, Christmas has a history, and that history affects us all, but each family has their own Christmas traditions and meaning. Children find yet a different meaning, and theirs is one that changes as they grow and develop.

As a secular family, we don't assign much meaning to the traditional role of religion in Christmas, but we have our own Christmas traditions. This article is dedicated to my family as they experience and amplify the wonder of Christmas through their traditions, through giving, and especially through the children.

As you read, keep in mind that I certainly don't propose that all of our traditions and activities will fit every home, but also keep an open eye for those things that look enticing and fun—they might end up being part of your true meaning of Christmas.

Family Traditions

Our family has, over the years, developed many traditions just for Christmas. Although the world and stores begin "celebrating" Christmas around Halloween, we don't. Everything waits until after Thanksgiving (although gift purchases may start as early as the day after Christmas for the next year).

The Christmas Tree

For several years, it was a yearly event to find and cut a Christmas tree. Waiting for a snowy day, with the family bundled up and warm, we searched through a nearby field that was thick (too thick) with small pine trees. We usually ended up with a "Charlie Brown" tree that wasn't perfect by any means but was a wonderful start to the Christmas season. Those days are gone, the field no longer available, and we now use a (shudder) fake tree, but it is still a big day when the tree comes out for decoration and our home begins to look like Christmas.

It's a big day when the tree comes out for decoration and our home begins to look like Christmas.

It's a big day when the tree comes out for decoration and our home begins to look like Christmas.

Our Tree Ornaments Include the Whole Family

Before our children were ever born, my wife made a few Christmas tree ornaments by hand. Ceramic figures of various kinds, with our names on them, and she also made a good number for future use but without names. As children, spouses of children, and grandchildren came into our lives, names magically appeared on those old ornaments, and it is always with wonder when grandchildren find an ornament on our tree with their name on it.

Those ornaments are now 30 years old and more, but they still go up every year. Children always help decorate the tree and are encouraged to add their own handmade ornaments (some of those, too, are decades old). When finished, our tree is not the prettiest or neatest around, but it carries memories that are irreplaceable. It is not only a symbol of all that makes up Christmas but of the good times from years ago. Our tree is special to us and something that always reminds us of what the true meaning of Christmas really is: the love and sharing of Christmas.

Our handmade ornaments have been on the tree for many many years.

Our handmade ornaments have been on the tree for many many years.

Traditions Remind Us of What's Truly Important

Some of our traditions are just that; traditions for no other reason than to remind us it is Christmas Day. It wouldn't be Christmas without a ham for dinner, or without rotten egg pie for dessert. These are just fun little things that mean Christmas is here. There is nothing special or meaningful about them; they just are after so many years of observing them.

Christmas Movies

Christmas movies are a staple through December, watching as a family with the young ones. A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, The Polar Express; all are staples to be watched and discussed every year.

Festive Home Decorations

Decorating our home is again a family tradition. Children are enlisted to help put window decorations up while Dad puts a few lights on the house. Our feeling on outside decorations is that we need not make the most lavish display around but that we do need to participate in the neighborhood decoration. It adds to the enjoyment of all, friends and neighbors, acquaintances and strangers, as the magic of Christmas blooms everywhere.

Decorations add to the enjoyment of all as the magic of Christmas blooms everywhere.

Decorations add to the enjoyment of all as the magic of Christmas blooms everywhere.

Santa Is for the Secular, Too

Santa Claus plays a part in our Christmas; we find no harm in the idea of Santa Claus and feel that it adds to the magic and wonder of Christmas for the children. For us, Santa fills the stockings put up on Christmas Eve; he drinks the milk and eats the cookies left for him. He leaves many of the gifts that magically appear late on Christmas Eve, long after the children are in bed. Other gifts come from Mom and Dad, brother and sister, but Santa always brings some, too.

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Read More From Holidappy

Everyone Can Participate in Christmas Cooking

Christmas Eve is always a time of family, singing carols, hanging stockings, and remembering past years' Christmases. Cooking begins for Christmas Day, with children helping to make cookies and candies—that evening or the next day, they get to offer everyone some of their own work.

Children can help make Christmas cookies and share their work with everyone.

Children can help make Christmas cookies and share their work with everyone.

Christmas Giving and Sharing

Certainly Christmas is a time of giving and sharing with those around us, but that sharing is not limited to those that we love and care for. It is also for the person that we have never met and will never see; those that are not so fortunate in their lives as we are and that could use a helping hand.

It Feels Good to Give

I would like to digress just a little here with a story from our past that is pertinent. Long ago, my wife's grandmother was the pastor at the local Salvation Army church, and every year the church gathered toys all year long to give out to the needy at Christmas. We always helped staff the store, repairing toys, setting the store up, and displaying the toys.

It fell to me to check off the people entering the store (you had to be on the list to receive any toys), and it was often not a pleasant task. I watched as some people took the bag we gave them and simply walked the aisles scooping toys until the bag was full; what they took was immaterial as long as they got "their share" of free toys. Others were downright nasty, as the line was always long, and the most prized toys went first.

One lady, though, came in with her daughter of perhaps 4 or 5. After receiving their bag, they carefully went down the rows of toys, choosing for each family member and thinking to leave some for the next person in line. Finished (although their bag was only half full), they headed for the exit when the little girl suddenly stopped dead in her tracks, handed the special doll she had chosen for herself to her mother, and dashed back towards me with her pigtails flying.

Frightened at her own audacity, she nevertheless threw herself at me, whispered, "Thank you so much!", gave me a big hug, planted a kiss on my cheek and dashed back to Mom. That 30-second episode more than made up for the long days in the store and the offensive behavior of some patrons. It was the most wonderful experience of the joys of giving I've ever had. That was 30 years ago, and I've never forgotten that moment.

Nor does the giving stop with the adults. The little ones love to put coins into the Salvation Army buckets where bell ringers ask you for help. They quite understand what it is about and wish to be a part of helping others. They learn giving here, and can that be a bad thing?

Christmas is a great time to introduce the concept of giving to children.

Christmas is a great time to introduce the concept of giving to children.

Teaching Children Generosity

The younger members of our family, beginning at 4 or 5 years old, participate in choosing and buying gifts for siblings and others. No, the gift won't remain a secret, and it is usually something they want, but they are starting to understand giving and wish to participate. A great time to introduce the concept to them.

Christmas is a time of generosity and sharing for us. It can be throwing a few coins into the bell ringer's bucket; it can be giving our time and work when we would rather be home, warm and comfortable; or it can be sharing our own Christmas. We often invite someone without nearby family to share our enjoyment of Christmas dinner and the camaraderie of the day. It all adds to the wonder of Christmas, and we are never poorer for doing it.

Christmas and Children

This article is getting a little long, but mention must be made of the children, the little ones in our lives. While adults can enjoy this time of year, it is truly a time of magic and wonder for children.

Beginning with Santa Claus, Christmas comes alive to children. Everywhere they look, they see signs of Christmas. The wait is interminable but also adds to the experience as we talk about Christmas, watch the movies, and take them to find gifts.

The Magic of Christmas

Yes, when Christmas morning finally comes, and they find gifts left by Santa and finally get to open all these neat things, that is the culmination of that waiting, but the entire season can and does bring wonder and magic into their lives. It can become a period to spend extra time with Mom and Dad (never a bad thing!), with family as the focus of the holidays. While not always easy—the season is also one of extra duties, work, and often stress—that extra time and love we lavish on our children are important to their understanding and enjoyment of Christmas.

While Christmas is a season for everyone to enjoy, there are also times of the season that we dedicate to our children. Christmas morning gift-opening is one such period, and it continues through the morning as they play with the new toys. Taking our children Christmas shopping, seeing Santa in the stores or a parade, taking the extra time to help our children "help" us prepare for the holidays—these are all things that make Christmas so magical to our kids.

Putting It All Together

The true meaning of Christmas to us is a combination of many meanings. It means the sharing of ourselves with others. It means giving to others that need our help. It means reviving the old traditions that we have formed over the years and remembering our past. It means promoting and participating in the magic and wonder that children find in Christmas. It is a time of love and generosity.

Most of all, though, our Christmas tradition is that Christmas is a time of family. Without family, Christmas would be a pale shadow of itself. There have been years when our extended family was not available to share in our Christmas, leaving just the two of us, and it just wasn't the same. For us, Christmas means family.

© 2011 Dan Harmon


Arthur Russ from England on December 16, 2019:

Perfect; such a brilliant piece of writing that says it all so clearly. I love it.

Debra selvage on December 12, 2018:

There's so many people out there that doesn't know the meaning of Christmas they think it's about toys they need to read the Bible and I would like to say divided we fall together we stand and it's falling quickly just look around think about it for a while until you understand what I'm saying

vince on November 29, 2017:


Jim Miller from Wichita Falls, Texas on December 23, 2012:

Thanks, Wilderness, I needed that!

Hari Haran from Namakkal on December 04, 2012:

sweet content on this christmas time..

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 29, 2012:

Thank you Glimmer - the story of the little girl is something everyone likes and I'm glad I was able to share that bit of my past.

Claudia Porter on November 26, 2012:

I'm glad this was shared. This is a beautiful hub and the story of the little girl thanking you was touching. It reminds us all of the reasons for this season.

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on November 26, 2012:

This is such a touching article. I can feel how precious the spirit of Christmas is to you and your family and it's beautiful to read about those little figures your wife made for the tree all those years ago. It's in that sort of thing that Christmas is special isn't it? The way those Christmas objects made with love get pulled out year after year, full of memories of all the years and the trees and now shared with the growing family - who hear about how it was in the beginning when they were made.

Sharing and voting.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 14, 2011:

@icountthetimes - yes, commercialism is a problem. It is a cast in stone rule at our home that decorations don't go up until after Thanksgiving, mostly in response to that creeping commercialism. While we will buy gifts throughout the year (especially at after Christmas sales), the season doesn't start here until long after the stores are playing Christmas music.

@Eiddwen - yes, the season is hard on us as I write this. Christmas music is playing in our home, the tree is up, and the spirit infuses us more each day. It is a wonderful time of year at our home.

icountthetimes on December 14, 2011:

Such a sweet hub. We're in an age where the commercial angle on this holiday can sometimes drown out the traditions and family aspects. I feel that you've really conveyed the true meaning of Christmas here.

Eiddwen from Wales on December 14, 2011:

Thank you so much for sharing this great hub.

I am in a festive mood this year already and hubs like this one add to the excitement.

I vote up up and away and look forward to following you on here.

Take care


Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 11, 2011:

While I won't generally approve links in the comment section, this fits all to well with my feelings on Christmas. Thanks.

majorshadow on December 11, 2011:

Song about the importance of family and the holidays. URL:

f on December 07, 2011:

wilderness: Yes, "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20.35).

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 06, 2011:

Absolutely. Yes, I enjoy getting gifts, something I wouldn't buy for myself but someone though I would enjoy, but overall I will leave the "getting" to children, and especially small children.

The rewards for giving are SO much more than for getting. The joy of receiving a nice gift fades in a short time, but the wonderful feeling of helping out, giving a hand to someone in need gives memories that last a lifetime.

jeyaramd from Mississauga, Ontario on December 06, 2011:

To Love is to place one's happiness in the happiness of another. The spirit of Christmas. Just as much importance should be placed on giving, if not more, than receiving. That is the true meaning of Christmas. Thank you for sharing a very traditional hub post on Christmas. Sometimes, through time we lose essence of the true meaning of giving. We get caught up in the, "What did I get for Christmas" marathon. There are too many folks running that road. Its great to get back to the basics. Thanks for sharing your insight.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 06, 2011:

@arusho: I think you're entirely right - Christmas is just a time to ramp it up a bit. And, of course, spread the cheer with happiness, decorations and music.

@Nat Amaral: That particular bit of Christmas memory always makes me pause for just a moment whenever I think about it. It has become a moment, frozen in time and not to be forgotten.

Nat Amaral from BC Canada on December 05, 2011:

This was such a sweet hub! The pictures were adorable. The part with the girl wearing the pigtails hugging you almost brought tears to my eyes. A very touching piece.

arusho from University Place, Wa. on December 05, 2011:

That is really beautiful, it makes me want to cry. I know how people say why do we have to wait until Christmas to help those in need, but I think a better way to look at it, is that Christmas is the time to ramp up what you have already been doing and give a little bit more. Just like competing in a big meet, you give it your all! Great hub!

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 05, 2011:

@Writer Fox: Thank you. I had no idea this was going to happen.

@alphagirl: You are most welcome - I'm glad you liked it.

@Aleenabroonee: That's great you got some new ideas from our traditions.

Aleenabroonee from California on December 05, 2011:

Wow i got some good idea from this hub its really a nice hub i decide to celebrate Christmas with new style in this year.

Mae Williams from USA on December 05, 2011:

what a great touching hub. Thanks for sharing

Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on December 05, 2011:

Congratulations on Hub of the Day!

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 05, 2011:

Wow! I come home from work and find I've made hub of the day and gotten a seemingly endless of comments on it. There is no way I can answer you all individually, so let me just say "Thanks" to all of you that have left me these kind comments.

A few special thoughts, though; many have said the story of the little girl is special, which gladdens me. That memory from years ago will remain with me forever - it was truly a very special Christmas moment.

DzyMsLizzy - that's so neat that you have the same ceramic molds. Those ornaments have been with us for many decades now and are very special to us. The grandkids always help us decorate the tree and insist that they hang their own ornaments.

Jennifer - we, too, have some ornaments received as gifts and it always brings memories of those that gave them to us. Some have left us, some live far away and some are close, but the memories live on.

Mary615 - yes, we still hang some ornaments that our now grown children made themselves as small children. They don't fit very well with beautiful balls or even the ceramic ornaments my wife made for each of us, but they have their own meaning and memories as well.

christopheranton - LOL. The "rotten egg pie" is hardly that - as a small child I asked what was in it, and "raw" eggs came through as "rotten eggs". It has been "rotten egg pie" to my siblings and I for over 50 years now.

Once more, a thank you to all who have enjoyed this hub. Your thoughts will brighten this Christmas for me. May you all have a very merry Christmas with your own family and friends.

yols-a from Trinidad and Tobago on December 05, 2011:

Best wishes to thanks for sharing and on being the hub the day

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on December 05, 2011:

I've always loved Christmas, and the family traditions plus the giving together is what makes such great memories. You said it well. Cingratulations!

FloraBreenRobison on December 05, 2011:

Congratulations on being hub of the day.

natures47friend from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand. on December 05, 2011:

Well...congrats on Hub of the day. You are really good at stringing words together.

Our Xmas's used to be fun as kids (except for certain horrible clothing gifts that I would never been seen, but now changes like divorces make for different events. Now we go to an Uncles house. He cooks the turkey, Mum makes a pavlova, fruit salad or we get fresh berries like strawberries, raspberries and boysenberries or similar. We pick the berries on Xmas day and have a late afternoon or evening meal. My daughter is the only child who 'want' pressies....

Wishing you a very merry Xmas and happy and prosperous new year!

Jennifer Essary from Idaho on December 05, 2011:

Congrats on Hub of the day! Your story made me reflect on the ornaments hanging on the tree. I've received so many of them as gifts and each year they remind me of the people and years gone by. Voted up!

RTalloni on December 05, 2011:

May the best that Christmas offers be yours and your family's this Christmastide!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on December 05, 2011:

Congratulations on hub of the day...and thanks for sharing your way of celebrating this holiday season. It is a time for children and it is so much fun this year to see my eighteen month old grandbaby and his brother who is almost 17 celebrate together. He stands by his brother by the tree and wow o, wow...

I enjoyed reading your traditions as well ...we all have those things which make our celebrations special.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on December 05, 2011:

Congratulations on Hub of the Day! Good job!

We, too, celebrate a secular holiday, going back to its pre-Christian roots, but we do love to decorate, and have lighted and animated things galore. You can't even use the restroom without running into decorations! ;-)

I loved your photos..and when I saw the tree ornaments, I exclaimed, "Our ornaments!" We make slip-cast ceramics, and I have molds for every one of those mice and bears...and have made a set for our own tree. What fun!

As for 'tradition for its own sake,' ... we like to break the mold...for example, this year for Thanksgiving, we had pizza!

Cheers, and Happy Holidays!

shailudhakad from GWALIOR,M.P.,INDIA on December 05, 2011:

You are really a religious and a spiritual person. I like the way you expressed the importance of Christmas in our lives. Even though I am not a christian but I love Christmas. Merry Christmas to you and your family in advance.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on December 05, 2011:

This Hub was truly deserved to be Hub of the Day! As a Mother, Grandmother (and I have a Great), it truly is a time for the children. My children always look for their own ornament they made years ago. I treasure these. Thanks for sharing your family traditions with all of us. I hope you and your lovely family have a very Merry Christmas!

f on December 05, 2011:

In the end I think the family symbolism at Christmas relates historically to the family at Bethlehem. The giving analogy at Christmas I think is ultimately a reference to the giving of the Son of God as Savior (John 3.16) and to the gold, frankincense and myrrh which were given at Bethlehem by the wise men from the east.

There is certainly such a lot of deep symbolism for families and individuals at Christmas and it's so good to value them.

Marissa from United States on December 05, 2011:

I really appreciate your message of giving rather than receiving. It's a great idea to start sharing that message with young children! The story of the little girl brought a tear to my eye as well...

Congrats on Hub of the Day! :)

Raj Lally Batala from Chicago ,USA on December 05, 2011:

good hub and lot of good info about christmas !! thanks

this christmas ,,gonna buy lot of gifts for everyone in the family

Merry Christmas!!

Maggie Griess from Ontario, Canada on December 05, 2011:

This is what Christmas is to me as well! Thank you for expressing it so well! Each Christmas brings back memories of Christmas' past and memories of family and friends...and the best Christmas' always have been the ones with young children and lots of family around!

Fantastic Hub...and Merry Christmas!

mandymoreno81 on December 05, 2011:

Beautiful hub! Whenever I pass by Salvation Army callers I put in several bucks because I know there are people who truly need it. My family continues our tradition of baking Christmas pies and cookies to give to members of our family and friends each year. It's all about giving and family!

Sandi from Greenfield, Wisconsin on December 05, 2011:

Thank you for sharing your Christmas traditions and thoughts about the true meaning of Christmas for you and your family. Christmas movies and decorations, giving of yourself and your time, spending time with family. It all makes for a wonderful holiday season, beliefs traditions you have shared with and instilled in your children that they will pass on to theirs. A beautiful story:) A well deserved hub of the day. Congrats.

jacqui2011 from Norfolk, UK on December 05, 2011:

The little girl in the store brought a little tear to my eye. I love christmas and it is all about family and sharing. I enjoyed your hub and it made me feel ass "Christmassy". Love your pics too. Hope you have another great Christmas this year.x

HendrikDB on December 05, 2011:

Very true. Thanks for sharing this beautiful piece.

Christopher Antony Meade from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom on December 05, 2011:

It was a very special memory, that little girl at the Salvation Army. A story worthy of Dickens, and true as well. Everything about your family's Christmas seems wonderful, although I am not sure about eating a dessert made from rotten eggs.

Still, each to their own. I hope you have another great one.

Thanks for sharing.

Dreamer at heart from Northern California on December 05, 2011:

I liked this very much

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 06, 2011:

That little girl epitomized the real meaning of Christmas for me - it made it a very special year and one that will live in my memories forever.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on November 06, 2011:

What a heartwarming hub, wilderness. I got tearful when I read the part of the little girl-so glad you shared that. It was a wonderful hub and I rated it up.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 02, 2011:

Thank you - Christmas is a very special time of to I and my family both, and the traditions we have formed through the years is a good part of it.

Bryce from Northern California Coast on November 02, 2011:

Glad to find this heartfelt exploration of the meaning of Christmas. I've been meditating on the traditions that meant the most to me and the values I've carried with me from my family, and reading this really touched me.

-- Trent

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 02, 2011:

You and me both, Simone. It got me in the spirit way early this year, just writing this and going through old photos of years past.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on November 02, 2011:

Wilderness, your approach to Christmas and your Christmas traditions are wonderful! I feel as though you've really distilled all that is wonderful about that time of year into this Hub... and it makes me so happy!

Now I'm more excited than ever for the holiday season :D

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 01, 2011:

@ Melbel: Yes, Christmas can be magical to our kids; it is sooo much fun helping that magic along and, through our kids, enjoying it as well.

Fun that you had a job wrapping presents as a kid - did it help the Christmas feeling or hurt it? Did you imagine the happiness and joy as those presents were opened or was it just a job?

@ Flora: The point of waiting is to provide a time for Christmas and not dilute it. For us, Christmas is, it a way, all of December - to increase that by a month or more will destroy it and reduce it to just one day. You can't celebrate indefinitely without destroying it altogether. Or so I think. It also commercialized Christmas far beyond what I am willing to accept.

That's great that you have long time family traditions that you follow; we find that it adds a great deal to Christmas.

Yes, that little girl about made my whole Christmas that year. It was a very special experience; the little girl, so obviously shy and scared, the mother that had no idea what was going on, all in a place too often filled with despair and unhappiness. Very special indeed.

FloraBreenRobison on November 01, 2011:

In Canada, our Thanksgiving is in October, so we have no retail-worthy holiday between Halloween and Christmas.We have *always* had Christmas in stores on Nov.1st. But I refuse to deliberately think about Christmas gifts (if I find something over the course of the yer I may buy it and put it away) until after November 11th.

My celebration is more secular than sacred as well, but wehave family traditions we have always followed as well.

Thanks for sharing the story of the little girl who stopped to thank you.

Melanie Palen from Midwest, USA on November 01, 2011:

Aww adorable pics! Reminds me of my childhood. Christmas is just so magical when you are a kid.

When I was like 9 or 10, I was REALLY good at wrapping gifts, so I would do this for extra money. Perhaps I was good because a kid has all the time in the world to wrap gifts. Each gift would be delicately wrapped. Now it's like... hmmm if I dump all the gifts into a big box and put a sheet over it, it's LIKE it's wrapped! Okay, so I'm not that quite THAT bad these days. :P

Thank you for the inspiring hub. It's definitely brought back a ton of memories. :)

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