True meaning of Christmas

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The "true meaning of Christmas" is a phrase with a long history in American pop culture. It first appears in the mid-19th century, and is often given vaguely religious overtones, suggesting that the "true meaning of Christmas" is the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. But in pop culture usage, 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 which has been lamented since at least the 1850s. The poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (1822) helped popularize the tradition of exchanging gifts, and seasonal Christmas shopping began to assume economic importance. Harriet Beecher Stowe criticizes the commercialization of Christmas in her story "Christmas; or, the Good Fairy".[1] An early expression of this sentiment using the phrase of "the true meaning" is found in The American magazine, vol. 28 (1889):

"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"[2]

The phrase is especially associated with Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843), where according to a popular blurb[by whom?] "A miser learns the true meaning of Christmas when three ghostly visitors review his past and foretell his future."

The topic was taken up by satirists such as Stan Freberg and Tom Lehrer during the 1950s and eventually by the influential TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas, first aired in 1965 and repeated every year since. Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) also illustrates the topos, and was very influential in the form of an animated TV special produced in 1966. The phrase and the associated morale became used as a trope in numerous Christmas films since the 1960s.

The phrase found its way into the 2003 Urbi et Orbi address of Pope John Paul II, "The crib and the tree: precious symbols, which hand down in time the true meaning of Christmas!"[3]


  1. ^ Stephen Nissenbaum, The battle for Christmas, Vintage Books, 1997, p. 134.[unreliable source?]
  2. ^ The American magazine, vol. 28 (1889), p. 742.
  3. ^ Urbi et Orbi message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II Christmas 2003U ( John Paul II refers to the Christmas tree as a reminder "that with the birth of Jesus the tree of life has blossomed anew in the desert of humanity."

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