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The Essence of Christmas

What is Christmas really all about?

by Keith Griffin

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To explore the meaning of Christmas as a message of love, joy and celebration.

Preparation and materials

  • A small jar of 'the essence of Christmas'. This is a mixture of orange and cinnamon oil, which is available from various outlets. Alternatively, a simple version could be made by mixing orange juice, cinnamon and oil together.
  • A range of Christmas-themed props, for example mince pies, presents, baubles, tinsel, cards.
  • One prop showing the nativity story. This could be a card, children dressed as Mary, Joseph and shepherds, crib scene or a picture displayed on screen.


1. Introduce the assembly by explaining that you have brought something special to show the children. After creating a sense of expectation, reveal your small jar of 'the essence of Christmas'. Ask the children what the word 'essence' means.

Listen to a range of responses.

2. There are two answers: 'a liquid that provides a scent or taste' and 'the most important aspect of something'. Give some examples of the second meaning so that the children gain understanding. Invite some children to smell the contents of the jar and ask them which of the two meanings ‘the essence of Christmas’ refers to.

3. Comment that the smell of ‘the essence of Christmas’ may conjure up thoughts about Christmas, but you want to think about the real ‘essence’ or ‘meaning’ of Christmas.

4. Show each of the Christmas-themed decorations in turn. Invite children to hold the props. You may wish to decorate a small tree. After each prop is revealed, ask ‘Is this the essence (meaning) of Christmas?’

5. Take out some Christmas chocolates, Christmas pudding or mince pies. Describe the smell and express that you would like to eat them! Again ask: ‘Is this the essence (meaning) of Christmas?’

6. Show the remaining Christmas props and repeat the question ‘Is this the essence (meaning) of Christmas?’

7. Show the prop that refers to the nativity story. Explain that the Christmas story teaches us about the essence of Christmas. It is a story full of meaning. It teaches us about love, hope, peace and joy. (You may prefer to place the nativity prop in the middle of the other Christmas-themed props.)

8. Having considered each item, ask the children what they feel the true ‘essence of Christmas’ is. Suggest that each of the Christmas-themed props makes Christmas special in some way. However, the true ‘essence’ is the feeling of fun, excitement, happiness and love. It is about sharing love with friends and family and even with people we may not know, or people in need.

9. The message of Christmas is love. It all began with a story of a baby being born, a baby called Jesus. When babies are born it is always a time for celebration. Christians believe that Jesus was a gift from God to the world, a cause for celebration. Therefore everything we do at Christmas should be in the spirit of love.

Time for reflection

Look at all the props displayed here.
What do you like most about Christmas?
Let’s say thank you for the fun, goodness and love that is at the heart of the Christmas season.

Dear God,
Thank you for our friends and families.
Thank you for the excitement of Christmas. Please help us to remember that the true meaning of Christmas is all about love.

Publication date: December 2015   (Vol.17 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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