Ask a Mormon Woman: How Do Mormons Celebrate Christmas?

Dec 14, 2009 by

Mormon LDS Christmas beliefs and celebrations article~by Jenny**

The ways that Mormons celebrate the holidays are varied. Because we are part of a worldwide church, and tend to include long-standing family and cultural traditions in our celebrations, this discussion is about those traditions as well as Mormon traditions. I have enlisted the help of several women for this post to help exemplify the differences in Mormon celebrations.

There are certain aspects of our faith that require us to tweak traditions on occasion, such as eliminating alcohol from our festivities. We are also encouraged to keep the main focus of our celebrations on the Savior.

A Catholic neighbor once asked me, “I know that you believe in Jesus and celebrate Christmas, but why don’t you have church services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?” That was a year that Christmas fell on a weekday, so we didn’t have an organized church service on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve (which we do when the holiday is on a Sunday). There have been times that I have longed to bundle up my family to attend a candle-lit service in a church with ornate stained-glass windows at midnight on Christmas Eve. It is a beautiful tradition. But at the same time I don’t feel that the Mormon Church is not revering Christ or celebrating his life by not participating in this specific tradition.

Kathryn shares this about her Mormon congregation’s Christmas celebrations:

My ward has a Christmas program on the Sunday before Christmas. The ward choir sings magnificent Christmas music [much like other churches' Christmas Day/Eve service]. A narrator reads scriptures regarding the birth and mission of Christ to introduce each musical number.

Earlier this month, our congregation had a Christmas party on a Saturday night. We all were assigned to bring part of the dinner. I brought a yummy raspberry jello salad. After dinner, the teenagers sang a Christmas song and two of the teens also sang a lovely duet about Mary and the Christ Child. The highlight of the evening was the nativity program presented by the children ages 3-11. There is nothing quite as adorable as little kids dressed up as sheep and angels. A narrator read the Christmas story while the children sang. Occasionally, the entire congregation was asked to sing ‘We Three Kings’ or ‘Silent Night’. Having the ward Christmas party helps remind us of the true meaning of the Christmas season—it truly is a celebration of the glorious birth of our Savior.

On Christmas Eve each family has their own intimate traditions. Many love to read the Christmas story from Luke, while acting out the nativity scene with homemade costumes. Our church does not have paid clergy, so church leaders have the gift of spending Christmas Eve with their families instead of officiating at a church service.

My congregational celebrations are similar, but not identical to, the events that Kathryn experiences. Our Christmas church service is also on the Sunday proceeding Christmas but we have no choir (because we are a small group, with many new to the church not experienced at singing). So our meeting is made up of talks given by members of the congregation, as well as congregational hymns, and a few individuals with musical abilities share Christ-focused musical numbers. Often this takes place in Spanish and English languages, with translators helping us all understand what is being said.

Our Christmas party is also multi-cultural. (Our party is not the same every year, but these are some of the things we’ve done in the past.) We have a potluck dinner where there is Latin food from all over the world, with tropical fruits as a special treat, as well as a few traditional American foods. The children are also a focus at our evening, usually they sing a song or act out the Nativity and then are presented with gifts. Many children in our area come from low-income homes so this is our chance to add to their Christmas. Then the dancing begins! Our Latin members love to dance, but the dancing always starts just as my family is wearing out! So we dance a little but leave it to everyone else to dance into the night to celebrate the joyful event of the Savior’s birth.

Many Latin church members have great parties on Christmas Day, as they feel that this is the best way they can share their love of the Savior, by welcoming many friends and family into their homes.

Heidi shared that when her parents were in England, serving as missionaries, the LDS church did have church services on Christmas Eve. She thought this might be a way for the church to honor England’s long-standing cultural tradition of a Christmas Eve service. Something that her parents appreciated about the Christmas season in England is a feeling that Christmas is more of a cultural event, with plays, concerts, dinners, etc., rather than a commercial event.

Michelle reminded me that the Mormon church has a worldwide Christmas celebration early in the month of December. It is called the Christmas Devotional. It takes place in Utah, the location of the headquarters of our church, and is broadcast via satellite and internet throughout the world. It is full of music and words from our leaders about Christ and the best parts of the Christmas season, such as charity and hope. The benefit to the broadcast is that it is recorded and we can watch and re-watch the Devotional throughout the Christmas season. It is a wonderful way to start the month focused on Christmas because it is a reminder that Jesus Christ is the reason for Christmas.

We also have church magazines – the Ensign, Liahona, New Era, and Friend, geared towards various age groups – whose December edition is dedicated to Christmas. Recently the church started a website that is all about celebrating Christmas with an emphasis on Christ. The grounds of several of our temples are decorated with holiday lights and large crèches to visually celebrate Christ’s birth. As part of our regular assignments to visit each other in our homes (called visiting and home teaching), many people visit other church members and neighbors to share holiday cheer through caroling and/or giving a plate of homemade goodies.

I think most Mormons try to keep the focus on Christ, but it can be difficult when children are so excited to see what presents they will receive. Most families I know do keep the tradition of Santa’s visit, but it is only one aspect to a month-long celebration, most of which we try to keep focused on Christ.

Christmas is a wonderful time of year in which we can more fully share our love of the Savior with the world. I appreciate the warm feelings I get of family, community, peace, and love. There is always something that strengthens my faith in Christ. Christmas is the perfect opportunity to think about our relationship with Christ and prepare ourselves for the start of a new year.

Watch for a post about LDS New Years celebrations in two weeks.

Tell us about your Christmas celebrations, especially if we’ve missed something that is important in your culture!

**Please note: The answers in “Ask a Mormon Woman” reflect the thoughts, perspectives, and experiences of individuals. Although here at Mormon Women: Who We Are, we strive to have our content consistent with the Church’s doctrine and teachings, we do not speak officially for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For official information about or from the Church, please visit www.mormon.org or www.lds.org.

18 Comments

  1. In Germany, Christmas Eve is the real celebration, and my ward does have a program on that day, just like all the other churches.

  2. Kathryn

    Jenny, your ward sounds delightfully fun! I also have happy memories of past wards that recreated the little town of Bethlehem for the ward Christmas party. We ate foods from that region and we all looked like shepherds as we came wrapped in our bathrobes, so we were totally focused on the real meaning of Christmas. Some of the things I love about our church is that we value creativity and also allow each bishop to meet the needs of his individual flock — even when it comes to Christmas. Merry Christmas!

  3. mormonwomen

    Michelle — thanks for sharing your experience. Just another example of how traditions can vary throughout the world.

    Kathryn, that is a good point about how the local leaders have the ability to respond to the needs and situations of their “individual flocks.”

  4. It is wonderful to have a variety of ways of celebrating the life of the Savior. It was fun to write this post and think about how all of our celebrations must bring our Heavenly Father great joy!

  5. Janelle

    In several stakes in CA, the ward buildings host Creche festivals on weekends. Hundreds of nativity scenes are displayed as well as home made treats. Here are some pictures of a Creche festival in Temecula CA.

    http://www.temeculainformation.com/crechefestival/tour.htm

  6. Ron Houston

    Thank you for your information. My question is, “What is the reasoning behind not having a Christmas Eve Service?”

  7. mormonwomen

    Ron,

    Thanks for stopping by. It’s a good question — one others have had as well.

    Of course, I can’t speak officially for the Church, but I think where there aren’t services on Christmas Eve, it’s probably because local leaders have decided to leave that day for families to spend together. As mentioned above, we do have other Christmas services and activities during the month (such as the devotional, Sunday Christmas services that are typical, and sometimes other local activities), so we are not without some organized worship and other gatherings. That said, we do understand the beauty of a Christmas Eve service, and I’ve heard of some Mormon families to choose to attend services of other faiths as part of their family celebration.

    In addition, I think Michelle Glauser’s comment above illustrates that this decision varies depending on the area.

    Hope this helps.
    Michelle, MW editor

  8. Chelsea

    I have a question about Sunday Christmas. How do other LDS families do Christmas on Sunday with Church and everything? We have 9am Church that day and I have no Idea to keep the spirt of Christmas and church with all the excitment of Santa Coming. Do you have Santa come a day early and do it on Christmas EVE? Do you open presents after Church or that night? I am lost this is my first Sunday christmas with little kids.

  9. We have always opened our gifts at midnight Christmas Eve…This has nothing to do with when Christmas day falls…It’s just our family tradition dating back to my ancestors in England…so it’s not really a problem. Being tired in church the next day is sort of though!

  10. It seems to me that in the wards I have been in have only held sacrament meeting when Christmas has fallen on a Sunday.

    When my kids were smaller, we did some presents before church and some presents afterwards. I made sure the kids were all bathed the day before and that church clothes were ready.

    You may want to consider waking the kids up a little bit early so that you have time for breakfast and a few presents. Having 9:00am church makes it challenging, but you will find what works for you.

  11. Good question, Chelsea! I have some of the same questions since I have kids the ages of 8, 5, and 2, with church also at 9:00! I don’t yet know if they’re going to switch the time or make church shorter, but we’ll work with whatever.

    Personally, I LOVE Christmas on Sunday; I think it’s wonderful to be able to worship in a church on Christmas (or also Christmas Eve). I admire how other religions do that, but completely understand why ours sticks to its normal schedule (we’re already pretty booked the entire month!)!!

    I’m actually not sure what we’ll do this year, but I’m sure we’ll try and follow our family’s typical traditions: Open a present Christmas Eve, then do our stockings Christmas morning. I’m hoping to delay the kids for their other presents until after church, when I’d also like to have a postponed Christmas breakfast!

    I just had an idea, though, perhaps we can put out one present per child Christmas morning and maybe trick them into believing that’s all their is! Maybe that will tide them over, then we can surprise them with more gifts after church? We’ll see…

    As for Santa, that last option is possible because we’re in the minority who don’t really “do” Santa like everyone else. Sure, I have some Santas at our house, we have some Santa books, we talk about him as a tradition, and teach the history of the guy (and practice other cultural traditions — like stockings, as mentioned), but we don’t teach Santa as a real guy who comes down the chimney and has flying reindeer. This is nice because it makes it a little easier for us to focus on Christ for the month. The thing that this doesn’t do, though, is decrease the whole excitement of presents — it doesn’t seem to matter who they come from, so I’m not sure how to contain the excitement/irreverence of the day — particularly because it’s on a Sunday. I guess I don’t feel too terrible, though, that Sunday will be such an exciting day because we can still do some Christ-related, Sunday appropriate activities after the newness of everything wears off — and I think you can do that whether your “do” Santa or not. Good luck! Post if you think of more ideas!

  12. We’re likely a bit odd, but: we don’t have Santa. Never have, actually.

    This year, with Christmas morning on a Sunday, we’re planning to get up, put on some great uplifting music, get dressed, have a pleasant breakfast, and trot off to church. We’ll save presents for after services.

  13. Also, our ward will have a Christmas Eve Eve (Friday 23rd) devotional, which I’ve very excited about! I love having the focus of Christmas be on Christ. We have a great time as a family, so I know our kids aren’t feeling left out of any of the secular fun.

  14. Erin

    My family has a great Christmas party every year. We have a wonderful meal and then a program where we act out the nativity. The children in the family are all given parts and have costumes. We have Christ centered hymns mingled throughout the program. It is fun but also reminds us of the beautiful night when Christ was born. We do exchange gifts but the focus is on the Savior.

  15. There really is no “right” way to do Christmas on a Sunday. Every family will be different, and it’s quite possible the choice you make will differ from others –even if the same implication is stressed.

    Our Sacrament Meeting is at 9AM, and I’m guessing we will do our best to convince the kids to sleep in! But with that said, we are not opposed to opening gifts before Church; depending on how many they get (this year is going to be very, very, very simple for financial reasons. Wish I could say it was for the best service-oriented reasons, but than I would be lying. Ha!).

    Our kids already know Christ was born in April and that we celebrate His Birth in December. We do all the Christ-centered stuff on Christmas Eve (Nativity, Advent, Service, etc.) and so ripping away the fun of Christmas on Christmas morning just because we have Church doesn’t feel good to me (for us). But! We will definitely not skip Church! The choir always performs (I accompany them), and it’s such a special, beautiful service. My favorite of the year! Even if it doesn’t land on Sunday. And yes, it’s usually just Sacrament Meeting –and I see that as a respectful gesture by the Church to help families spend more time together –which, to us, is usually opening gifts, eating crazy yummy food, and staying in our pajamas all day (except, obviously, this year!).

    Whatever you decide to do with your family, just know a few things:
    1. It doesn’t have to automatically become a tradition. Since it only happens every 7 (?) years (Christmas on Sunday), you can change up your decisions based on where your family is (age-wise, need-wise) and on the time Church starts.
    2. Whatever you decide will be right. Because you are the one who is entitled to revelation for your family. :)

    Good luck!

  16. britt

    We don’t have church until 1…so we have it easy. That said, our traditions include only stockings before breakfast, so if church was at 9am we’d stop there.

    I love having Christmas on Sunday. I wish we had a christmas service anyway.

  17. Rebecca

    I love when Christmas falls on on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, because I feel it adds to the reverence toward Christ. I enjoy this, because my family does the traditional belief in Santa, and I feel that this can detract from our Savior. But our family has tried and I believe succeeded to have him be our main focus. Christmas Eve is my favorite because that is the night that is just for my small family. We do not go visit other family or friends, we stay home and make cookies for Santa then go into our room that is beautifully lit and read from Luke about the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The feeling in our home is full of love and excitement for each other, our Savior and for the fun to come the next day. And I love how we work all month to build this feeling, by playing Christmas songs, sharing gifts with neighbors, and attending church Christmas celebrations. The whole month of December is one we strive to devote ourselves to Christ, by showing of his endless love towards others.

  18. Coming from a Latin heritage and combining that with my husband’s traditional pioneer ancestry makes for some interesting Christmas celebrations at our house.

    We don’t do Santa either. Our children all receive three small gifts . . . . on Jan 6th Three Kings Day (traditional Latin holiday). But they do receive gifts on Christmas as well. We try to make them meaningful. For instance our 4 younger daughters will each be getting a painting of a woman in the bible by Elspeth Young (signed by her too!). The three older daughters who already have paintings by Elspeth will be receiving the book “Faith of Our Pioneer Fathers” written by their great-great grandfather Bryant S. Hinckley.

    And, of course, grandparents like to spoil them all with goodies.

    As for Christmas on Sunday, we too have 9am church. So we just asked our children what they want to do about the gift opening. Every single one (except for the 4 year old) wants to wait until after church before opening any gifts. Yay!

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