Consider Christmas. It is the most nostalgic of times. It seems we’re such a homesick lot, yearning to be back in our Heavenly Father’s presence. But the Christmas celebration reminds us that our “homecoming” has been assured—because the Savior was born. That’s a good cause to celebrate! The gatherings and the feasts, and the music and the prose, all color the occasion uniquely. As the hearts of the children turn back to their fathers, our store of personal memories surrounding Christmas becomes precious.
Christmas should liberate us from prejudice, peevishness, and pressures. It puts us back into perspective with our religious beliefs, our family relationships, our cultural heritage, and our precious past. A simple trinket becomes priceless after repeated appearances on a Christmas mantle. Even a broken bauble cannot be left off the tree —if it’s always been there, it goes up again! Such treasures are symbols of shared times in an aura of a magic and hallowed season.
Christmas is continuity to children who are in an otherwise constant state of change in height, weight, and age. But the “constant” quality of Christmas decorations, menus, and rituals is just as important to oldsters whose memories outnumber even their years. Even the lively middle set, usually demanding new places, styles, sounds, and faces, insist on an old, familiar tradition for Christmas.
Christmas is for everyone, then—the child, the childlike, and the mature. Whether you are giving the gifts or getting them, planning a surprise or delighting in one, Christmas opens the door to deep joy.
President Harold B. Lee has said that it is what our hearts tell us that we can believe, and we will remember what we feel.
That could be an important guide to Christmas celebrating this season. The most memorable family experiences at Christmas will be those that touch the heart and enrich the spirit. What a family feels together will weld them in an eternal way.
Families have a way of “multiplying and replenishing” their Christmas traditions, and they generally fall into three categories of preparation and performance. First, there are those whose seasonal emphasis is on others—they could be classified as the “Unto the Least of These” group. Then there are the families who concentrate on activities that bring Christ into the celebration and de-emphasize commercial aspects. They fit into the “Good Tidings” group. Those who put energy, money, and thought into traditions that are family-oriented might be labeled “Behold, My Joy is Full” people.
Unto the Least of These
The father of one Salt Lake City family serves as a guide on Temple Square, a position that makes him aware of lonely people during this season. His family’s favorite tradition is to share supper and seasonal scriptures with a stranger. Early in the season they enjoy wondering what kind of guest they will have, because over the years they’ve entertained many different kinds of people. There have been people of different races, people with varying values, people with problems, or people whose travel schedule has kept them from their own warm circle. The stranger is hosted to a choice time by this family and the family, in turn, is flooded with thanksgiving, counting their blessings of gospel and home.
Another family makes arrangements each year to “adopt” an additional member for the holiday. It might be someone from another state who is undergoing treatment at the nearby children’s hospital or someone abandoned to the care of a detention center or juvenile court. The “adopted” is one with the family circle, sharing gifts of goods and love with those who have learned how to give.
A group of neighbors gather their children together each year on the night before Christmas Eve, and after an informal supper they call on preselected people, presenting them with honorary “doctorate degrees” appropriate to their special contributions to society or to the neighborhood. Caroling surprises the one to be honored, and the presentation is made with affectionate pomp and ceremony. Someone will receive a “doctor of kindness” degree, another a “doctor of courage” award, and still another a “doctor of service” citation. A friendly embrace or handshake is received from each family member and the glow of Christmas is felt by all.
Ideas such as these require special arrangements and promises kept, but it is Christmas celebrating of the highest order. In return for gestures of good will to others, such families testify to God’s love and joy that fills their hearts. Indeed, they say, if you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto him. You feel it.
“Down with commercialism at Christmas!” declare families who celebrate with emphasis on spirituality and the birth of Christ.
Many families maintain the tradition of presenting a first Christmas play or reading the scriptural account of Christ’s birth. But consider Christmas as kept by one family—a play is the focal point of the holiday. Not the menu, not the gifts, not the household decorations, but staging their version of that beautiful night 2,000 years ago. Costumes are brought out and repaired, revamped, and reconstructed to fit a smaller child playing a shepherd this year. Scenery is constructed and props gathered. Everything is freshened up. If there are more assignments than family members, then neighbors are brought in. Rehearsals are held regularly. In this case, the oldest sister, though long since married, is the guiding light. Friends, nonmember neighbors, and in-laws are sent special invitations that bear the old religious verse:
This verse, read at the opening of the play, is a treasured part of the play and every youngster dreams of being the one selected to recite these significant lines.
Refreshments are simple and appropriate to the Savior’s day—unleavened bread with lamb chunks marinated, broiled, pierced with a toothpick, and served with quartered oranges.
Because Christmas Eve is the magic time when carols really touch the heart, one family declares that day as the official, important holiday in their lives. Dad arranges to be off work, and the deadline for readiness is the night before Christmas Eve. Mother assigns the daughters to prepare a beautiful brunch, and everyone dresses up for the occasion. Then, with Christmas carols filling the house and the buffet laden with gifts baked and packaged for sharing, the family visits friends with their gifts. “Merry Christmas!” has extra meaning when it is called out at this time.
This family’s philosophy is that half the fun of Christmas is preparing for it. They feel that by spreading good tidings before Christmas, they put emphasis where it ought to be. The time is sacred—not frantic.
My Joy is Full
Family-oriented Christmas celebrations feature parties that build up each member, gifts that reveal the talents of the giver, and activities that emphasize the blessedness of relatives who care about each other.
Christmas is the holiday when hearts turn homeward and even a little-known cousin becomes someone important. One family has a tradition of holding an open house Christmas night. The hours are early enough so guests can call before a possible family gathering in the evening—flexibility is the key, so everyone can come. All refreshments are prepared ahead of time.
Personal invitations bring relatives from both sides of the family, and everyone looks forward to seeing everyone else. There is a gallery for photo pinups; this has been popular for so many years that people send pictures ahead of time so the host family can mount them on the family Christmas Board. Some even bring entire family albums. Others tote along a new painting or piece of needlework, a news clipping, or a missionary letter. This festive show-and-tell binds people together in a very special and important way.
Another family chooses Christmas gift time as a way of giving each other a portion of their own lives. Dad gives his son a whole day to share some adventure—to instruct him in car driving, boat building, scripture memorizing, or camping skills. One sister gives another a coupon book of hair styling appointments. She’ll trim, shampoo, and set her sister’s hair so many times during the year for free—and happily! What has been a delight to this family is the way the gifts are given—the unique cards, boxes, or the symbolic little gift suggesting the bigger, personal one—such as scissors, a bottle of shampoo, and a poem revealing the gift of hair styling.
During such celebrations, one looks around at a gathering of people who stem from the same roots, whose common ancestry and same set of challenges and experiences bind them together like no other collection of human beings anywhere. This is the season to be sentimental, to be jolly, and to share love and memories. When you entertain for all the family, however simply it must be done or however grandly you are able to do it, that’s the part of the celebration that brings the real joy within.
It isn’t, after all, the details of your menu, gathering, or decorating that count. It is the fact that it has become a tradition, and doing it one more time brings back memories of all the other times to everybody concerned. Christmas should be considered in terms of continuity—the past brought to the present, and then aimed toward the future. Christmas considered in terms of its beginning with Christ and its ending in a hopeful future reunion with God takes on new significance.
And all the means of giving, remembering, and savoring are justified by such a beautiful ending.