Teaching Toddlers the True Meaning of Christmas

“So, Kellus. Tell mommy. What is Christmas about?” I waited eagerly for my son’s answer, wondering if he would remember what I taught him last year.

“Christmas is about Christmas tree and lights and decorations and presents!” he answered. His voice was roaring with excitement and he jumped up and down all around the living room floor.

“Oh, I see,” I answered. “Well, can I tell you what Christmas is really about? Christmas is really about Jesus!”

“Awhh, OK,” he said. Then he quickly changed his answer. “Christmas is about Christmas tree and lights and decorations and Jesus!”

Hours later. “Kellus, what is Christmas about?”

“Jesus!” he answered.

I laughed at his quick answer, which was probably to appease mommy. But I knew it was a great start. Now the next assignment was to explain the full story. In my heart, I knew it was time for my husband and I to get down to the nitty-gritty about what the true meaning of Christmas is, and especially since most of everything in our American culture tells us Christmas is all about Santa, Reindeers and Elves. I wanted to figure out how I could teach them the truth and do so and in a fun way that a four-year old could understand.

In the beginning, I didn’t think it was possible to teach my two- and four-year-olds the true meaning of Christmas. Seriously, if I could at least get through a story without interruption, it would be awesome. My experience with reading to them is funny. If momma’s not animated, loud, silly and cartoonish, I’d lose them quickly. The moment momma becomes boring, the crickets chirp and suddenly I’d hear an exhausted voice yawn, “Mom, can I play Super Mario?” or “Can I have some juice?”

I laugh each time. I hate to sound so excruciating to them. (laugh out loud) Toddlers have the shortest attention spans, I’m convinced. So, since my mission is to tell them the true meaning of Christmas, I have to have a plan!

Since my husband and I are both followers of Christ, it’s important to us that we teach our children the real meaning of Christmas–that it’s a season where we reflect on the birth of our King and do our best to show our appreciation by giving. Now, explaining that to a two year old means I have to do so in the most creative ways. Here are a few ways I thought might be helpful to my kiddos.

  1. Be animated: My kids love story-time, except when it’s evident that momma is tired and not really there in story-land. So, I try to make a habit to make sure I hop into character– even when I’m bone tired.  So, I hop right into it. How cool is it that three wise men follow a huge star to find Jesus! And since my four year old is preparing for school, I like to ask him what he remembers from the story. Kids tend to remember when it’s exciting and capturing!
  2. Be intentional: I like to zone in on the moral of the story once we’re done. When talking about Jesus, I like to make sure it’s clear exactly who He is– how He came, lived and is coming back! This paints the picture well in their eyes and helps them understand–even on their level. “Jesus is the son of God who came to earth because God loves us sooo much.” My son responds, “Really, Mommy? God loves us sooo much?” I’ve learned that the more intentional we are about sharing the gospel to our children, the more interested they become in learning more. “But why, mommy?” is usually the next question from my son. I just love the dialogue. I’ve noticed that when he prays at night he thanks God for Jesus. I believe he’s catching on.
  3. Softly explain the truth about Santa: When I was younger, my parent’s didn’t hesitate to tell us the truth about Santa. In our home, it was not a big problem because we were taught young. I’ve learned that if we don’t expose our children to the real meaning early, it could possibly be harder for them to understand much later. By sharing with my toddlers right now, they have a lesser chance at being hurt when they learn how unreal Santa is. Children are captivated by the rosy cheeks and red suit (hey, it is a fun costume). But they could be even more excited to learn about a baby who came to love and save them!
  4. Get them involved: This year, I plan to take my children out into the community to pass out Christmas cookies and a small message of hope. This will help teach them how to be loving and giving and that this time of year is not all about receiving gifts.
  5. Give Christmas cards, videos and drawings: My children love to color! I think it’s a sweet idea to work on a gift for a loved one (or a stranger) and allow the children to help. This would truly brighten up someone’s day and teach them how to be giving!

I’m sure there are many many more ways children can learn the true meaning of Christmas and what it means to be giving. Christmas time is such a wonderful time of year. But, I also believe we could teach our toddlers the truth about this holiday season now. Even they can be a huge blessing and help show the love of Jesus Christ to the world. It’s never too early or too late. I hope some of these suggestions can help make your holiday season fun and exciting!


FamilyLife has wrapped up all of the anticipation, excitement, and wonder of being a kid at Christmas into What God Wants for Christmas. This kid-friendly, interactive nativity—with seven gift boxes, a colorful pop-up, and an illustrated poem—contains a surprise ending that will open a child’s heart to Jesus. Use this hands-on lesson in Sunday schools, outreach events, or family devotions. You can use What God Wants for Christmas over multiple days or all at once. It’s simple, easy to use, and fun for all ages! Share the good news this Christmas season with those who need to hear! 

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4 thoughts on “Teaching Toddlers the True Meaning of Christmas

  1. Thank you for sharing that you tell your toddlers the truth about Santa! This is the first year my oldest has really understood Christmas, so my husband and I decided to tell her that Santa is just pretend. Like Barney and Veggie Tales. Just for fun. And then we focus on the real meaning… Jesus! And try to sing more Jesus-centered Christmas songs. :)

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  2. Thanks so much for commenting, Carolyn! I'm so glad you enjoyed this post. That's a great way to share the truth… how Santa is pretend like Barney and Veggie Tales (my kids love both of them too).. love your suggestion of singing Jesus-centered Christmas songs!!!

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  3. Great post! Your love for Jesus comes out in your writing. I love your suggestions and completely agree with them. Like you said showing excitement when talking about God to your kids is so important. They are so impressionable at this young age, and emotions are a big trigger for them, on what to get excited about, etc . Sounds like you are doing a great job as a mommy, teaching them the most important thing, a love for Jesus.

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