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Do children know the true meaning of Christmas anymore?

Updated on November 12, 2012

It's that time again ...

I am sitting at my desk looking out of the front window of Michaelmas Cottage watching a crocodile of small children leaving the little church opposite.

Flooding past my window, chattering like magpies, are an assortment of shepherds, angels and wise men, their costumes flowing out from under the modern day outer wear that is keeping them warm on their walk between church and school. Proud mums and dads are scurrying back to cars to get ready to pick them up when they have changed back into their everyday clothes.

It's that time again, Christmas, and the infants nativity play is alive and well in my Cornish backwater. It a nostalgic sight and somehow reassuring.

The sight of all those tots in their costumes, angel wings dragging, tea towels held firmly in place with bungee cord, restores my faith in modern life somewhat.

I can almost believe that in this gimme, gimme, gimme society where children are increasingly taught to believe in Santa Claus, the patron saint of consumerism, we can still hang onto a traditional Christmas.

It’s the sort of Christmas that celebrates its origins, not just in the minds of us old-timers but also in the minds of our children in a society many of us in the UK still like to think of as traditionally Christian.

Holding onto tradition with tree and candles.
Holding onto tradition with tree and candles. | Source
Waiting for carol singers.
Waiting for carol singers. | Source
A cottage welcome at Christmas.
A cottage welcome at Christmas. | Source
A Christmas fireside ...
A Christmas fireside ... | Source
... and sometimes it's a white Christmas.
... and sometimes it's a white Christmas. | Source

Is it possible to keep a traditional Christmas alive?

I don't believe in God. I cannot believe in the old Testament where a vengeful God is waiting to smite wrongdoers with a flaming sword. Equally I am unable to sign up to the sickly schmaltziness of the 'God loves you - join my sect' sort of thing.

This may well be my loss but even so ...

However I do believe in a well-documented and apparently gifted healer called Jesus Christ who radically preached love and tolerance to a primitive society whose vested interests killed him for his activities.

As with many charismatic leaders his following began to threaten the status quo and he had to be silenced. But his values and pacifist ideas have persisted for two thousand years.

It doesn't matter if we are not spot-on with dates because it is the concept that is important here.

The idea that someone humble stood up and was counted, stood up and took a stand against cruelty, venality and ignorance, stood up ... and forfeited his life for his beliefs. Such was the impact of his stand that his actions are still remembered two thousand years after the event.

Surely if anything deserves to be celebrated it must be the birth of Jesus Christ?

What are we teaching our children?

The photograph that begins this piece took some finding. I typed 'children's nativity play' into Flickr ... it did not compute, of course.

So I typed in 'Christmas' and trawled through pages and pages of children with presents, decorated trees, drunken young women wearing tinsel, brightly lit shops and presents, presents, presents. It was demoralising but not unexpected.

Recently our early evening local news programme has been interviewing young children, asking what Christmas meant to them.

Not one of them seemed to have anything in mind other than it was going to be fun and they were going to get presents, lots of presents. Not one of them seemed to have any idea of the real reason for the celebration. There was no mention of the Baby Jesus at all.

And another thing ...

For some reason this year seemed worse than usual for missing the point. Even the advertising rankled with me.

One advert had a father saying he wanted to spend time with 'his boy'. Laudable? Laughable, more like. Apparently 'spending more time with my boy' meant playing a computer game with him.

Not going for a game of footie in the park, or taking him skating or going for a bike ride, not doing anything outside in the fresh air, not playing a board game and having a laugh and a wrestling match when you lost. Just the same old, same old ... sitting in front of a screen, something they could do any time of the year.

It was not a special sort of bonding, it was just distinctly average. It was disheartening to realise that this was what passed for intimacy now amongst so many parents and children in our modern way of life.

Is there a middle way?

Yes, of course there is. I know we can never turn the clock back to a more innocent time, a time when we could all roam the village at night singing carols outside people's doors, a time when we all sat together in front of the fire telling ghost stories and scaring the bejasus out of ourselves.

We all know rampant consumerism at Christmas is here to stay ... at least unless all the world's economies actually go irredeemably bust.

It is natural for children to be excited by the thought of getting the Christmas presents they have asked Santa for, that much has not changed since I was a kid. But it really wouldn't take much to instil in our children a little more of a sense of why all of this celebrating happens at this time of year.

Obviously my words are aimed at all who live in a Christianised society and who consider themselves to be Christian, even though many of you, like me, are not fully paid up members.

Perhaps something could be learnt from other great religions of the world, most of whom seem to be a little more aware of what their festivals and celebrations are really all about?

But for now, from me, I wish you awareness. Have a very Merry Christmas ... and may your God go with you.

For a more romantic view of my Christmas see my blog


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