Tiffany Sowby is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently called by friends of other faiths as the “Mormon Church”) and mother of five. She tries to find humor, joy and contentment in the little things life has to offer.
How do members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) celebrate Christmas? Is it all about Santa’s visit on Christmas Eve night and what presents have been purchased for loved ones? Or is Christmas about remembering the birth of Jesus Christ?
Growing up as a child in England, Religious studies were a part of the daily school curriculum. I spent many Decembers working on art projects and essays depicting what most in the Christian world refers to as ‘The First Christmas’. I specifically recall making a time-line of events with pictures beginning with Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth to Baby Jesus laying in a manger. I remember my third grade class painting gold angels, that I placed proudly on my family’s Christmas tree. One of my favorite parts of December as a school child were joining with the rest of the school and singing the old Christmas favorites, Away in a Manger and Silent Night.
My children now bring home from school Rudolphs made of construction paper, and red and green tissue paper wreath’s that adorn our counters, fridges and doors. Furthermore, any singing my children do at school during the month of December is limited strictly to songs about reindeer, snowmen, and of course, good old Santa Claus himself.
Too often now, the balance of Christmas is left out.
As a child growing up in England my family was (and still are) active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). Our personal family celebrations and traditions intermixed with the celebrations of our local church congregation and the school festivities all had very similar tones. We celebrated Christmas. And though we certainly had our fair share of Christmas candy, visits to/from Santa Claus and non-religious Christmas songs, one thing was never neglected, the recognition and celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Is it possible to enjoy the traditional parts of Christmas that include Santa Claus, candy canes, and gingerbread houses AND the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth?
There is much to love about the Christmas season. Christmas music, wrapping presents, garlands on banisters and the smell of a freshly cut Christmas tree are high on my list of Christmas favorites. I love the excitement on children’s faces in anticipation of Santa Claus, and I love chocolate in my stocking.
I love the kindness that seems to be in the air at Christmas time. It seems hearts stretch a little more and wallets open a little wider with a turn of the calendar page. Yet even with all the distractions of a commercialized holiday, there is room for quiet moments of reflection about what Christmas is really about.
Though my children may not experience the same balance of Christmas celebrations in school as I once did, they experience both parts of Christmas within our Mormon Christ-centered home, our church (The Church of Jesus Christ) and among extended family and friends.
Typically Latter Day Saint (Mormon) Sunday meetings in December focus on the true meaning of Christmas, but there are plenty of opportunities to balance the other parts of Christmas within our church buildings. I have participated in numerous Christmas dinners in a church setting that may include a energetic rendition of Jingle Bells as Santa enters the room or it may include young children dressed in robes and sheets re-enacting the scene in Bethlehem on that first Christmas night. I’ve joined church groups making Christmas crafts and decorations, and I’ve joined church groups supplying Christmas to a homeless shelter.
We live in a world that has made Christmas far more than the simplicity of a sacred night more than 2,000 years ago. We’ve even moved on from the simple times of excitment over a single orange left under a tree. We live in a world that fills December with gift exchanges, dinner parties, stocking stuffers and all sorts of anxiety and stresses that result from the search for the perfect gift or celebration.
In my family, despite my best efforts to balance all aspects of the Christmas season, on occasion Christmas Day has come and gone with our full focus on unwrapping presents, Santa Claus’ visit, and answering the repeated question, “What did you get?” The Nativity re-enactments, carols and scriptural readings of the previous night are suddenly forgotten in the whirlwind of toys, gadgets and chocolate on Christmas morning.
Several years ago my Latter-day Saint (Mormon) grandmother introduced a new tradition into the Christmas afternoon dinner she has always hosted. Sometimes close to 40 people squeeze into her modest front room. Amidst piles of gift bags and hand-wrapped presents, she has a previously assigned person read to us, “And Santa whispered, teach the children the true meaning of Christmas.’ Using a somewhat dated flannel board, we watch and listen as some typically commercialized Christmas symbols are related to Jesus Christ.
It isn’t the piece of writing itself that draws a special spirit into the room, and it certainly isn’t the visual aid. It is the acknowledgment and remembrance of Jesus Christ’s simple birth and what His life means to each one of us. While wrapped presents under a lit Christmas tree sit waiting to be torn into, we are reverently reminded that Christmas is more than the gifts under a tree.
My family has spent many a Christmas season reading from the book of Luke in the Bible. We have spent many evenings dressed up in bath-robes and sheets depicting angels, wise-men and shepherds. We have spent hours in discount stores and shopping malls searching for the right gifts for under-privileged families and children. We’ve dropped loose change in the buckets of Salvation Army’s Bell Ringers.
And yet without fail, every Christmas Eve night we retire to bed with grand hopes that Santa will come while we sleep.
There is without a doubt, room for all sorts of Christmas celebrations within the month of December. While keeping all things in moderation, there is plenty of joy to be felt at Christmas. The kind of joy that stretches even beyond discarded tin-foil angel halos, crumpled wrappings and door-bell ditched Sub-for-Santa gifts. The joy comes from only one place-holding in our hearts the sacred reminder of our Savior’s birth and life.
Watch Bible videos about the birth of Jesus Christ.