An online search found that the most accepted explanation for the “true meaning of Christmas” is that it is a phrase with a long history in American pop culture. It first appeared in the mid-19th century, and is often given vaguely religious overtones that suggest that the “true meaning of Christmas” is the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. In pop culture usage, however, the religious references are mostly avoided, and the “true meaning” is taken to be a sort of introspective and benevolent attitude opposed to the commercialization of Christmas. We’ve all seen or heard about it lamented in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (published in 1843) or perhaps in an annual viewing of Charles M. Schultz’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, repeated every year since its 1965 debut.

So much of what we do this season stems from our own Christmas’ past; what we do to preserve the customs that are ours. When I think about what is my true meaning of Christmas, I clearly see it in now in my history. Tradition has many different definitions and origins—a tradition can be cultural, based on religious beliefs, societal or, in my case, my parents and their ability to celebrate anywhere, anytime, with anything that was available to make Christmas wonderful for me and my siblings. We moved quite a bit, nothing was really the same year after year, but there was always the celebration of being together. In remembering this, I notice the way each memory makes my heart feel. Here I find joy. The true meaning of Christmas, to me, is the overwhelming and heartfelt joy I have for the family, the friends and the love I have in my life. For this I am truly grateful.