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The Heart of Christmas

Geographical and cultural wrapping

by Brian Radcliffe (revised, originally published in 2014)

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider the simple Christian message of the Christmas story.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and two readers.


Leader: As we look around us at Christmas cards, Christmas adverts and Christmas programmes, there are many common images.

Reader 1: I’ve seen lots of robins pecking in the snow for crumbs.

Reader 2: There are candles and firelight flickering against a night sky full of stars.

Reader 1: Everyone’s dressed in warm coats, scarves and hats.

Reader 2: That’s because they’re singing carols under a snow-covered tree.

Reader 1: Some lucky children are sledging to see Father Christmas at the North Pole . . .

Reader 2: . . . while on the table sits a full roast turkey dinner followed by Christmas pudding.

Leader: However, Christmas isn’t like that everywhere. In some parts of the world, people will be spending Christmas Day in shorts and T-shirts, as the sun beats down on them. Christmas dinner will be a barbecue on the beach, followed by a swim in the pool or the ocean.

You see, the Christmas that we’ve made for ourselves carries a lot of baggage that’s related to where we live and the traditions that we’ve created. We’ve built in image after image that relates to a location in the northern hemisphere. If we look at the actual location of the Christmas story, the picture is somewhere in between the extremes that we’ve noted. Bethlehem, lying in the mountains, would have lower temperatures than many other places in the local area, but it would be cool rather than cold. A sweater would be enough.

Time for reflection

Leader: So, what is Christmas really about? For Christians, it starts with the biblical characters. There’s a vulnerable teenage girl called Mary. Then there’s Joseph, a slightly older man, trying to do his best in a situation about which he’s more than a little confused. He’s forced to take his heavily pregnant wife on a journey because of Roman legal requirements and, when they reach their destination, she gives birth to the baby. These are ordinary people: not complex, not influential. They are easy to identify with. But it’s the baby that’s the key to the whole situation.

For Jewish people - for that’s what Mary and Joseph were - God was a holy, powerful and remote person who, on occasions, became involved in the lives of ordinary men and women. This baby, Jesus, changed all that. Christians believe that Jesus was human, in that he was born to a young woman. However, they also believe that Jesus was God’s son, whom God had sent to earth. Jesus was God and humanity in one person. He bridged the gap. This concept is difficult to understand, but it is central to the Christian faith.

Christmas is a special time, and many of us love the traditions that have developed in our own homes and countries. However, the true heart of Christmas lies with the tiny baby born in Bethlehem, whose life would change the world.

Dear God,
Thank you for the wonder of Christmas.
Thank you for all the traditions that we enjoy.
Amid the busyness of Christmastime, remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.


Any appropriate Christmas song

Publication date: December 2023   (Vol.25 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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