Find the Meaning of Christmas with Charlie Brown

The spirit of the holidays can shine through with an exploration of A Charlie Brown Christmas and activities that focus on giving.

By Cathy Neushul

charlie brown tree

The Christmas season can be a time of high anxiety for children. What should they ask for this year? Will they get what they want? While adults may not be able to go back in time to fully remember how fun, and yet stressful, Christmas can be, teachers can still relieve a little bit of this tension by having students explore another aspect of the holiday—the tradition of giving.

A great way to introduce this concept is by having the class read, or watch, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown leads viewers on an exploration of the meaning of Christmas. He is disgusted by the commercialization of the holiday. Everywhere he looks, he sees evidence of Christmas as an excuse to buy and consume. Even his dog, Snoopy, is not immune.

Eventually, Charlie Brown finds a symbol of how he feels about Christmas. He visits a Christmas tree lot and finds the smallest, scrawniest tree. He takes this tree to show his friends. After being mocked and ignored by his friends for thinking Christmas is more than a commercial holiday, they change their stance a bit by joining him in celebrating the spirit of the season.

How To Put the Spirit into Christmas

After reading or watching the story about Charlie Brown’s Christmas experience, you can ask the class what they think was the movie's message. Then, they can make a list of the things they like about Christmas and some of the ways they think the holiday has become too commercial. Every year, Christmas decorations and toys are on display a little bit earlier. For both parents and children, the stress of the Christmas-buying culture can be challenging.

At least in the classroom, Christmas can become a time to focus less on buying things, and more on helping others. With your class, come up with a list of ways you can help someone else this holiday season. Individually or as a class, you could visit a senior center, clean up a neighbor’s yard, or read with younger children.

How To Find a Cause

If you can, have your class pick a particular cause and gather donations or raise money toward a goal. In the past, my classes have raised money to support a dog shelter, a local food bank, and a shelter for homeless families. There are a variety of wonderful organizations that make it easy for your pupils and/or your class to do something worthwhile, with just a little bit of effort.

While you want your class to have the opportunity to choose which nonprofit, local group, or organization they would like to support, you can give them a list of possible ideas to get them thinking. Here are few suggestions:

  • If you want a nonprofit with global reach, Heifer International is a group you might want to look into. One year, I was particularly attracted to the idea of raising money to send a young girl to school. For $275.00, Heifer International gives a family some livestock and training so that they can raise enough money to send a girl to school.
  • The Red Cross is always a great organization for students to learn about. You can find out about and/or contribute to a particular cause through this organization by visiting their website
  • In my area, there is a family shelter that asks for community donations during the holidays. Perhaps you could find a local organization in your area that caters to families that your class could help through donations or raising money.

These are just a few ideas as to how to help your students give something back during the holiday season, the results will be lasting. You’ll change the focus of Christmas from a celebration of gifts to an exploration of giving.

The Spirit of Christmas:

Christmas Makes Me Think

Pupils explore the impact Christmas has on communities. They discuss the cutting down of trees, the food prepared for celebrations, and the other traditions involved. This is a way for your class to discuss how the holidays affect everyone.

Christmas at Mud Flat

Using the story Christmas at Mud Flat by James Stevenson, pupils combine learning about the holiday with analyzing literature. This is also a good way to introduce your class to the different ways people celebrate Christmas. There are well-defined characters that the class will enjoy discussing. 

The Juicy Stuff Matters

Using the story How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss, learners practice summarizing. This story can also be used to discuss the meaning of Christmas. Through the Grinch, your class can learn about the ways Christmas can be celebrated even without gifts.

Writing About a Christmas Day Celebration

Young scholars write a story about a family Christmas celebration. This is a good way to have your class discuss the ways that the holidays are special for each person. They can identify the traditions that make their family special.