Christmas Message: Keeping Christmas
Barbara B. Smith was called in 1974 to be general president of the Relief Society, the Latter-day Saint (“Mormon”) Women’s global leadership and service organization -a position she occupied for nearly ten years. She is the author of several books, including The Love That Never Faileth, The Light of Christmas, Growth in Grandmothering, and A Fruitful Season. She tells this wonderful Christmas story–how her children and children’s children carry the promises of the birth of Christ, the spirit of Christmas, from one generation to the next. She speaks of gifts that point to the Savior, times that are treasured reflections of the fruits of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Enjoy this Christmas Message, this Christmas story, and share it with your friends and family this season. Merry Christmas to each of you.
Last year was the Christmas it all came full circle. Douglas, my husband of over fifty years, and I had begun our customary, joyful Christmas Day rounds. We both still held an inner glow from our Christmas Eve spent with our ever-increasing realm of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who had all gathered at our home for dinner, a Christmas Eve program, and one gift that didn’t have to wait until morning to be opened—all this tradition had begun with both Doug’s and my own grandparents generations earlier.
On our circuitous course, we were fulfilling another generations-old Christmas custom, that of visiting the homes of each of our grown children on Christmas morning to see what Santa Claus had brought their little ones. But that has never been the principal reason we go. We really go because, in the midst of the annual excitement and anticipation of unwrapping all those brightly adorned presents under their Christmas trees, each aglow with tinsel, ornaments, and lights, our families pursue varied means to keep the spirituality of Christmas vibrant and joyful. And we rejoice to be part of that.
Christmas Story Prophesied of in Scripture
As we nurtured and raised to adulthood each of the seven infants that blessed our home, we were always aware that “what we desire our children to become, we must endeavor to be before them.” (Andrew Combe, Home Is Where You Hang Your Memories [Fort Worth: Paul Brownlow Publishing Company, 1993], p. 20.) Throughout the years we also followed the counsel in Deuteronomy regarding the commandments, applying that biblical directive to all gospel truths, to “impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (See Deut. 6:6-7.)
Especially at Christmas time, when our family circle is most complete, do we best see the fruition of our gospel efforts in the lives of our children. And this was never more true than in this particular year, as we arrived in time to participate in the gift-opening with most of our families, or, as we continued our rounds, as we recalled wonderful events from Christmases past. This synthesis of Christmases past and present crowned a wondrous new realization for me, opening my eyes regarding our lifelong endeavor to teach our children to know, live, and love the gospel and Jesus Christ, that we might have our family together forever.
Our first stop Christmas morning is always at Sherilynn’s, our youngest daughter. Last year we enjoyed our involvement there as Sherilynn and Hector’s young family first opened their presents, then ate their traditional Christmas breakfast with us as their guests. Finally we all sat in a cozy circle in the front room, bowed our heads in a prayer of gratitude, and took turns reading scriptures and discussing their significance to Christmas. We read of Samuel the Lamanite’s prophecy concerning the signs of the Savior’s birth and of Nephi’s account of Christ’s appearances and teachings to the Nephite nation. It was a delightful beginning to another memorable Christmas Day tour.
Our opportune stop at Barton and Louise’s allowed us to watch their family also open presents as they read the biblical narrative of Christ’s birth and ministry. Barton paused at several junctures in the story to have the children unwrap presents that both related to those specific parts of the scriptural account and were of current interest to them. For example, when reading of the shepherds watching their flocks by night, the youngsters unwrapped wool sweaters. At the point where the wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, there were gifts of money and perfume. When reading of Christ asking the fishermen to “Come, follow me,” the boys’ packages revealed fishing poles, chest waders, and other fishing gear.
At Blaine and Becky’s home, each family member had received a carved name plaque that included the meaning of the person’s name. The interpretation of each name signified the potential of the individual in the plan of life and exaltation, even as Jesus’ name bore specific import and promise by definition: “Jehovah saves,” the one to “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21); “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6); and “Redeemer of the world” (D&C 19:1).
Paired with scriptures, the children’s names each carried divine promise:
David—Beloved one . . . “The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long” (Deut. 33:12)
Sarah—Princess . . . “A chosen generation” (1 Pet. 2:9)
Scott—Traveler . . . “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15)
Steven—Crowned one . . . “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Pet. 5:4)
Brian—One of strength . . . “The Lord is my rock . . . fortress . . . deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust” (Psalm 18:2).
The Christmas Story is About Service
Thus were Blaine’s children being taught they had the privilege and responsibility to fulfill the promise of their names given at birth as Jesus, our Exemplar, had honored his own name during his divine earthly mission.
As we continued our journey that day, we remembered a Christmas before when we had arrived at Lillian’s home late in the morning. The whole family was radiant with yuletide warmth and love, and I had been moved to tears when I learned why. Annually her family chooses a symbol from the Christmas story; that year it was angels. But Lillian did not know what culmination to their Christmas theme her husband and children had secretly planned for her.
Very early that Christmas morning her husband, Claron, had called up the stairs, awakening Lillian from a short sleep to hurry down to the Christmas tree. There she found her six children, four girls and two boys, all dressed in new white Christmas outfits, waiting for her, gift in hand. Her heart melted at the scene before her. Each child then presented her a gift wrapped in pure white, telling Lillian why she was “my angel mother.”
It was a supernal experience. Of that moment, which was forever sealed in time, Lillian expressed, “Now when I look at my children, I remember them that day dressed in white and realize all the more how I want to be with them throughout eternity.”
A few Novembers earlier, Catherine, Carl, and their children had moved into a new home. When Christmas Day grew near, as a family they decided to visit every person on the block and make themselves acquainted with their new neighbors. As gifts to bring, they baked cookies and decorated little baskets to hold the treats. This first pre-Christmas Day tour of the new neighborhood was such a success that the visits became a tradition cherished by the neighbors, who told Catherine’s family, “Our Christmas begins with you!”
Through their retelling of this annual enterprise, we were able to discern the developing faith of her family in the ways of Christ, as well as their love for him and their understanding of the blessings inherent in encircling others in the arms of the Savior’s love through their own actions and love. There has been no doubt that Catherine and her family know the essence of the Holy Birth.
Lowell’s family was another where the pre-Christmas experience set the tone for the actual holy day. One year, without telling their five children first, Lowell and Lynne chose a night close to Christmas for the whole family to sleep under the Christmas tree. The surprised and delighted children, once snuggled in their sleeping bags, gazed into the gleaming lights of the tree. One suggested, “Let’s sing Christmas songs.” So they sang the wonderful old carols that testified of the miraculous birth, ending with “Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright . . . ” (Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985, p. 204.)
As the song ended, another Christmas cherub proposed, “Let’s play ‘I spy with my little eye’ some of the things on the Christmas tree.” They did until they could spy no more. Finally, one awestruck little fellow asked, “Is this the real night of Christmas?” That night proved a memory to last a lifetime and the beginning of another family tradition. He and all of them had felt the love and warmth of the reason for the season.
For our final Christmas Day stop last year at our firstborn Sandra’s home, her three-year-old grandson, who lives in Nevada, provided bounteous Christmas Spirit as Sandra conversed long distance with him by telephone. Barely more than a toddler, and blessed with splendid voice and features, brown-eyed Erik sang in harmonious tones for “Granma Fish” (he can’t quite say “Smith” yet!) of the Baby “A-sleep, a-sleep, a-sleep, a-sleep, a-sleep, the Savior in a stall! A-sleep, a-sleep, a-sleep, a-sleep, a-sleep, the Lord of all.” (Children’s Songbook [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989], p. 42.)
Erik’s mother, Julie, who is Sandra’s oldest child, also told of Erik’s delight with the early Christmas present from Granma Fish. Sandra had given him a finger puppet set of the characters from the manger scene. With his two-week-old sister, Kylie, in Mom’s arms, his father would read the Bible story while Erik worked the puppets with great flair. When it came time to do other things, big brother Erik always put the puppet manger scene back, each character in its proper place.
For little Clarry, Ashley, Michael, Katlyn, and Emily, more great-grandchildren of our sixth generation of tradition, at Christmas time or any time, one of those “other things” to do is to be read to as they sit on a parent’s lap. Christmas time for them particularly brings stories of Jesus, retold to this youngest generation by their parents with the same excitement they felt when they first heard those tales of the wondrous birth. Now, reading from storybooks new and old, even some tattered but treasured ones, my great-grand ones listen enraptured, eyes all aglow and their beautiful faces wreathed in smiles.
The Christmas Story is About Following Christ
It all takes me back to when I was a small child upon my mother’s knee as she told me the stories of Jesus. I heard about the shepherds, the star, the angels, the wise men, and the Holy Baby long before I went to school. Because of that, I never remember a time when I did not know Him. Douglas declares as well concerning his heritage in Christ, “He was taught to me from my first breath and I have always believed in him.”
From the first breaths of each of our seven children and throughout their lives, Douglas and I have tried to nurture faith in Christ, his birth, life ministry, atonement, and resurrection. Now we see this faith actualized down to the last generation. Because of this generational faith, our family knows the truth found in the scriptures which announces that children’s children are a crown to the aged, and the glory of the children are their parents. (See Prov. 17:6.) In truth, I prefer not to think of myself as “aged,” but I suppose one cannot have great-grandchildren and still be considered young! No matter at all. No small portion of my present joy comes from those of my progeny who have chosen innocent and righteous lives.
This last year’s experiences, combined with those of the past, are my proof of the effect upon our posterity of our application as parents and grandparents of the Psalmist’s words: “We will not hide them from our children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.” (See Psalm 78:4.) Of course, each of them, child or adult, and all future links to our line, just like all people, must choose for themselves whether to embrace Christ and his gospel or to settle for something less. We are all afforded such diversity within that “strait and narrow path” (1 Ne. 8:20) of living according to the commandments of the Lord. That so many of my family, although not all, have “chosen the good part” (2 Nephi 2:30), I view, as mother and grandmother to them all, to be the eventual fulfillment of the gospel plan in their behalf—”to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). It is therein that we will truly come full circle, not just at Christmas time, but in the gospel as a whole, forever inseparably connected as individuals and families within the exalted circle of eternity.
This last year it was as if Christ had entered into our family circle, enveloping each of us in his warmth and love, filling our hearts with peace and gratitude, deepening our joy and understanding of the true meaning of Christmas. As many of my children and grand-children ponder about and engage in more significant gospel study and spiritual enterprises than did we, their actions enlarge my hope that the rising generations are grasping the greater vision, embracing Christ in their lives now and eternally. Even as Douglas and I were taught, then taught our seven children with increased insight and capacity, so have our children taught their posterity with skills superior to our own, as are those children exceeding their parents’ bounds.
In that realization it all came full circle for me; it made perfect sense to me. I felt like the blind man made to see. My eyes had been opened to see that the simplicity and grandeur of the Savior’s teachings span all generations. I could see the effects of his wondrous works and the seal of a personal witness in the lives of those I love most. I could see that Christ, the Master Teacher, utilizes each Christmas to tap every tender feeling, every holy symbolism, every good thing that would draw each of us to him in such a way that he can enfold us in the arms of his everlasting love. With understanding and gratitude I bowed anew in humble adoration before the Master. Through the grand visual aid of Christmas, my eyes had been opened to the enormous privilege of teaching children and of learning from them as we all grow in faith together.
Each of those Christmas experiences of the children are visual, spiritual, intellectual aids by which they are learning of the Master and the master plan. Whether they learn that in the unwrapping of “spiritual” gifts, in the correlation of scriptures, in grasping their birthright, in serving others, in the singing of carols, or by being enveloped in the warmth of Christlike love, in all these ways and countless more are avenues to bring them to Christ, in mind, heart, and spirit. It is a masterful part of teaching the plan to his children of promise.
And what I see and visualize for our family is available to all, indeed, to all those who “love his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:8.) The essence of the eternal plan is that every person, every home, every generation will choose to bow and live in humble adoration because Jesus the Christ was born. Christmas time helps us do that freely and with joy.
Living out a great season of my life, thanks to Jesus Christ, and two wonderful daughters, a great life's work. Loving this opportunity to share faith online... I'm a single Mom, convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, second-gen Italian, from the East coast originally. Love the fine arts, dance, frozen yogurt, temples, scriptures, writing, jazz, helping others reach their potential, king salmon, ....and not in that order. God is good. I feel it deeply when people have a misconception of Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ, His Son, that lessens or cheapens Them and blinds one's ability to feel His presence or to trust in an ultimately good eternal end to life's circumstances.