Do they know what Christmas is all about?

Christian children today do not know the real meaning of Christmas. They seem to think it’s about Santa Claus and Advent calendars. Others think it’s just a winter break from school when they’ll go on a skiing holiday with their parents.

They don’t actually realise that the Advent calendar is the countdown to Christmas Eve and Christ’s birth, but think it’s a countdown to Santa’s arrival.

Six-year-old Thomas said: “I love Christmas. Santa’s going to get me a new lego set and bicycle this year.” No mention of the baby Jesus, Bethlehem, a bright star in the East, or the three wise men. The child’s answer mirrors the results of a BBC poll last week, which found less than half of British children between the ages of seven and 11 were aware that Christmas was the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Only 44 per cent of 1,063 children questioned understood that Christmas returns each year for the birth of Christ. Children from Northern Ireland were the most aware of the link, with 71 per cent giving the correct response.

Nicosia teacher Andy Metaxas said he believed the majority of school children in Cyprus were not too aware Christmas was the celebration of the birth of Christ either. “I’d say about 70 per cent are not aware,” he said.

The teacher said although the students were taken to church during the last week of Advent, he found that a lot of them paid no attention to what was going on and talked throughout the service. “Children just aren’t very religious any more. It’s all about going out, having a good time and presents. Although some are really religious, most aren’t really aware of what this season means.”

Undeniably exchanging of gifts has become an established part of the Christmas season throughout the Christian world. The BBC highlighted this aspect when it found that 63 per cent of children polled said they were saving money to buy gifts for their close friends, while 15 per cent said they spent more money on their mother, seven per cent spent more on their father, and 66 per cent spent equal amounts on both parents.

Metaxas said although he was not in agreement with religious instruction focusing on Christianity in schools, believing a more well rounded approach to different religions would promote greater tolerance, he said it was a shame that if people wanted to celebrate Christmas they didn’t know what it was. “If you’re going to be giving and receiving you should actually understand what all this giving and receiving means,” he said.

However, in a multicultural world it is becoming increasingly difficult to focus on the Christian aspect of Christmas.

Highgate School director Maria Theocharous said the fact that the school had pupils from a variety of different cultural and religious backgrounds made it difficult to focus on the purpose of Christmas. She said the birth of Christ was taught as part of the school curriculum during PSHE, Personal Social Health Education, which was taught once a week from reception right through to secondary school.

“From the beginning of December, the meaning of Christmas is filtered through, stating clearly the importance of kindness, sharing, promoting morality. We talk about why we celebrate Christmas and especially in the Greek classes we address the religious aspect. In the other class, we talk about the reasons rather than what it’s about.”

Theocharous said the reason for this was because the school tried to acknowledge and respect other religions and backgrounds. She said it was important to make children aware of other beliefs and celebrations because they had to learn that there were other beliefs out there and to learn to respect other people who were different.

“Respect leads to tolerance which leads to acceptance of society at large,” she said. “Children have the wonderful capacity of not being judgemental, and the ability of giving and receiving. Unfortunately it is we adults that encourage judgement because we do it and then children quickly become aware it.”

Nevertheless, despite the school’s liberal religious instruction, which includes an Easter festival week where all types of religions are talked about, Highgate still puts on nativity plays throughout the last week of term, with each age group putting on its own performance. As for Santa Claus, the school arranges for the man himself to make an appearance on the last day of term to give each child a gift.

“We’re not promoting the commercial aspect of Christmas, it’s just a lot of children won’t receive a present from Santa because their parents don’t celebrate Christmas so the school is the only link to Christmas celebrations,” she said.