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.