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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". An early expression of this sentiment using the phrase of "the true meaning" is found in The American magazine, vol. 28 (1889):
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!"Christmas is the season during which Christians everywhere give thanks to God the Father for the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ. This joyous cycle begins on December 25, the Festival of the Nativity of our Lord, more commonly known in English-speaking countries as Christmas. Along with Easter and Pentecost, Christmas is one of the three great festival days of the church. Christmas is the climax of a longer liturgical cycle that begins with Advent, continues after Christmas with Epiphany and the Sundays that follow, and ends with Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.