Mormon beliefs sometimes get confused with the beliefs and practices of other religions. One such belief concerns the celebration of Christmas. Mormons tend to be very passionate Christmas celebrators, with many Mormon congregations hosting nativity festivals or free sing-alongs of Handel’s Messiah each year.
While Santa makes an appearance in some Mormon homes, the focus is always on the meaning of Christmas. Christmas is considered a sacred holiday and Mormon families are encouraged to simplify the secular portions of it in order to make more room for the spiritual elements of the Christmas celebration.
Jesus Christ and celebrate His birth as a pivotal moment in eternal life. The Book of Mormon, which Mormons consider a companion book to the Bible, says, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26.)
Mormon beliefs state that Jesus Christ is the redeemer of all mankind and that there is no other way but through Him to achieve eternal life and be saved. The Book of Mormon contains 284 references to being saved, rather an extensive discussion on the topic. Following are some of the verses on this subject:
And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day (3 Nephi 27:6).
For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved (1 Nephi 6:4).
For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do (2 Nephi 25:23.)
Mormons believe that Christmas is meaningful because of Easter and the two holidays are intertwined in their minds and celebration. Talks given on the subject of Christmas generally include discussions of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice on our behalf and His glorious resurrection from the dead.
“When all is said and done, when all the legions of the ages have passed in review, when man’s terrible inhumanity to man has been chronicled, when God’s great love for His children has been measured, then above all stands the lone figure of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world, the Savior of mankind, the living Son of the living God, the Prince of Peace, the Holy One.
Isaiah spoke of Him centuries before His coming: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). (See Gordon B. Hinckley, “First Presidency Christmas Devotional: “My Redeemer Lives””, Ensign, Feb. 2001, 70–73.)
What might a typical Mormon Christmas season look like? It will be different for each family, but common traditions include:
Service Projects: Many Mormon families do additional service throughout the Christmas season, giving gifts to those in need, volunteering at a church or community service project or helping at a food bank. Gifts are usually collected at church to assist congregation members who have little, but Mormons also often donate to community groups.
Reading of the Four Gospels: The four gospels are the four books in the New Testament that tell of Jesus’ life. Many Mormons use the Christmas season to read these accounts and to work as a family to understand them better. Even the youngest child is encouraged to listen to the stories in the King James translation, perhaps supplemented by a children’s version afterwards. However, they want their children to become familiar with the language of the Bible, even if they are too young to understand it.
Reading quality Christmas literature: Church leaders often quote from great literature that helps to remind us of the deeper meanings of Christmas. For example, the current Mormon prophet, Thomas S. Monson, reads three books every Christmas: Luke (the Biblical account of the Savior’s birth and life), A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke. Mormon families often incorporate these examples as well as their own personal favorites into their own Christmas celebrations as a distraction from the usual Santa fair.
Singing sacred Christmas hymns: Although the more commercial Christmas songs are fun, Mormons also sing and listen to a wide range of sacred Christmas hymns, many traditional throughout the Christian world. Some of these are included in their official hymn book, such as Silent Night and Away in a Manger.
Displaying nativities. Most Mormon homes will display a nativity scene throughout the holiday season and many Mormons collect nativities. Some families even keep one or more nativity sets on display all year long as a way to keep the meaning of Christmas in their hearts all year.
Of course, Christmas is also a time for families. Mormons hold weekly family nights in which they have a short lesson, games, music, and treats. These are just for the family and are designed to build a bond with family members and to allow parents to share their values with their children. It also increases leadership skills, since everyone takes turns doing the various required tasks—conducting meetings, leading music, teaching lessons and preparing treats. Even a very young child might get an opportunity to teach his older family members about Jesus Christ. In December, many families focus their lessons on Jesus Christ and the messages of Christmas. Family nights also often include planning for a family service project to be done during the Christmas season.
Mormons are encouraged to simplify their holidays to allow more time for family and for spiritual things. We don’t have to go to every party, every parade, or every show. We needn’t spend too much time or money shopping for gifts. When we bring our Christmas down to its simplest components, we find it is a more rewarding season that can strengthen our testimonies of Jesus Christ.