I Have a Question


Questions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

Why do Latter-day Saints celebrate Christmas on December 25 instead of on April 6, the apparent date of Christ’s birth?

Roger A. Hendrix, a member of the Palos Verdes East Ward, Palos Verdes California Stake, is serving as president of the Chile Santiago South Mission. The simple answer to the question is that, regardless of whether or not April 6 is Christ’s birthdate, there is no compelling reason for Church members to go against a well-established Christian holiday unless the Lord requires it of us. And there are at least three good reasons why we can feel comfortable observing the traditional date.

First, Joseph Smith apparently approved of the growing religious significance of the December 25 holiday. Despite Puritan attempts to ban Christmas celebrations in early New England, Christmas in Joseph Smith’s day continued to evolve from a time of “folksy conviviality” 1 into a religious event. Although Nauvoo school records indicate that Latter-day Saint children there in the early 1840s went to school on December 25, by midcentury Christmas in America and in Europe had taken on a deeper meaning.

For example, on 25 December 1843, the Prophet recorded that he had been awakened about 1:00 A.M. by carolers. The serenade of “heavenly music” caused him “a thrill of pleasure,” and he thanked God for the visit and “blessed them in the name of the Lord.” 2 That evening, the Prophet enjoyed other festivities as well. His favorable response to Christmas celebrations suggests that he saw nothing objectionable about the holiday taking on religious significance.

Second, Latter-day Saints have not been inclined to take extreme positions on matters not essential to the message of the Restoration. Of great importance is one’s testimony of the Savior’s divine birth and mission and one’s decision toward a dedicated discipleship. In view of that emphasis, it is not surprising that as Christmas became more of a religious holiday after the Civil War, Church leaders felt no need to counter it by promoting the rival date of April 6.

Third, it is not uncommon for historical events to be celebrated on a day other than when they occurred. For example, few people care that the signing of the Declaration of Independence is celebrated in the United States on July 4 instead of on July 2, the actual date of the signing.

The governing principle in such situations is one of intent. The thought is what counts most, not necessarily the precise date or the traditional trappings surrounding it. A precedent is found in D&C 27:2, where the Lord says that it does not matter what we use for sacramental emblems—as long as we “do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering … my body … and my blood.” It is not unreasonable to suppose that the Lord would make a similar allowance in celebrating his birth.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie amplified that idea: “Apparently Christ was born on the day corresponding to April 6 (D&C 20:1), but the saints nevertheless join in the wholesome portions of the Christmas celebration. Christmas becomes to them an ideal opportunity to renew their search for the true spirit of Christ and to center their attentions again on the true doctrine of his birth as the Son of an Immortal Father.” 3

What really matters, then, is that we celebrate the birth of the Savior and that our devotion is clear. If revelation were to tell us that intent must be matched with the right date, we would gladly do it. Until that occurs, however, it appears that celebrating the traditional Christian Christmas is acceptable to the Lord.

[illustration] The Nativity, by Robert T. Barrett

    Notes

  1.   1.

    Daniel Boorstin, The Americans: The Democratic Experience (New York: Random House, 1973), pp. 158–62.

  2.   2.

    History of the Church, 6:134.

  3.   3.

    Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), pp. 132–33.

Why is the phrase “and it came to pass” so prevalent in the Book of Mormon?

Donald W. Parry, instructor in biblical Hebrew, Brigham Young University, and Gospel Doctrine teacher, Grandview Fourth Ward, Provo Utah Grandview Stake. Mark Twain once joked that if Joseph Smith had left out the many instances of “and it came to pass” from the Book of Mormon, the book would have been only a pamphlet. (Roughing It, Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Co., 1901, p. 133.) There are, however, some very good reasons behind the usage of the phrase—reasons that further attest the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

The English translation of the Hebrew word wayehi (often used to connect two ideas or events), “and it came to pass,” appears some 727 times in the King James Version of the Old Testament. The expression is rarely found in Hebrew poetic, literary, or prophetic writings. Most often, it appears in the Old Testament narratives, such as the books by Moses recounting the history of the children of Israel.

As in the Old Testament, the expression in the Book of Mormon (where it appears some 1,404 times) occurs in the narrative selections and is clearly missing in the more literary parts, such as the psalm of Nephi (see 2 Ne. 4:20–25); the direct speeches of King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma, and Jesus Christ; and the several epistles.

But why does the phrase “and it came to pass” appear in the Book of Mormon so much more often, page for page, than it does in the Old Testament? The answer is twofold. First, the Book of Mormon contains much more narrative, chapter for chapter, than the Bible. Second, but equally important, the translators of the King James Version did not always render wayehi as “and it came to pass.” Instead, they were at liberty to draw from a multitude of similar expressions like “and it happened,” “and … became,” or “and … was.”

Wayehi is found about 1,204 times in the Hebrew Bible, but it was translated only 727 times as “and it came to pass” in the King James Version. Joseph Smith did not introduce such variety into the translation of the Book of Mormon. He retained the precision of “and it came to pass,” which better performs the transitional function of the Hebrew word.

The Prophet Joseph Smith may not have used the phrase at all—or at least not consistently—in the Book of Mormon had he created that record. The discriminating use of the Hebraic phrase in the Book of Mormon is further evidence that the record is what it says it is—a translation from a language (reformed Egyptian) with ties to the Hebrew language. (See Morm. 9:32–33.)

My husband often neglects his priesthood duties as patriarch of our home. What can I do to help my family grow spiritually?

Thomas A. Holt, regional representative, Independence Missouri and Omaha Nebraska regions. The situation you describe is a difficult one. There are no easy answers. If your husband resists or resents your efforts to motivate him to honor his priesthood duties, go to our Heavenly Father in prayer and ask for the inspiration you have the right to receive, to know what you can do to best motivate your husband to honor his priesthood, also asking the Lord to soften your husband’s heart. You may feel impressed by the Spirit to discuss the problem with your bishop.

Keep certain “family-first” priorities in mind as you decide how to nurture your family’s spiritual growth. Your first priority is to love God and be responsible for your own righteousness; that is, you must persevere on the road to exaltation despite setbacks that might occur in your family. Your next priorities, in order of urgency, are to help your spouse, your children, and then other family members to live the gospel and seek exaltation.

You may be limited in what you can do to foster your family’s spirituality if, for example, your initiating family prayer and family home evenings alienates your husband. In that case, loving patience may be your best recourse, since even gentle, well-intentioned prodding may be perceived by your husband as nagging. Rather than jeopardize your family’s spiritual well-being, you may have to relent, allowing your husband the time and space he may need.

Some less-active husbands shirk their patriarchal duties because they lack confidence or feel unworthy. Although your bishop, your husband’s priesthood quorum leader, and your home teacher may be of great help here, there are some things you should consider as you try to help your family without appearing to take over.

In this regard, your course is clear—sustain your husband even in his weakness. Complement his weaknesses with your strengths, just as a bishop’s counselors assist the bishop by sharing their insights and testimonies without usurping his authority. Allow your husband a margin of error, which will probably diminish as he gains experience and grows spiritually.

Giving continued support to your husband is crucial. Talk things over with him, letting him know of your willingness to help him plan and call the family together for prayers, home evenings, and council meetings. Give him loving, respectful counsel. Be patient. Tell your children that you appreciate having a priesthood holder in your home.

With the entire family cheering for him, your husband may find it easier to resume his patriarchal role. If you feel it will be well received, you can help the family support him by helping assemble the family for prayer and saying something like “Dad, as head of our home, would you like to call on someone to pray?” It’s also a key idea to meet privately with your husband before family home evenings and council meetings so that you and he will address family concerns in a united fashion. And there are many areas you will both want to teach—honesty, integrity, thrift, hard work, and so forth.

Look to the Book of Mormon for insights into your situation. For example, the account of Nephi breaking his bow teaches in a powerful manner the wisdom of supporting the family patriarch. Left without a means of obtaining food in the wilderness, it appears that many of the company, but not Nephi, “began to murmur against the Lord.” (1 Ne. 16:20.) Although Nephi knew that his patriarch-father shouldn’t murmur, he didn’t presume to lead the family. Instead, he made another bow and then went to his father for direction. The result was that Lehi repented and, chastened, learned from the Lord where food could be found. (See 1 Ne. 16:18–31.)

Nephi’s respect for his father’s patriarchal role helped Lehi to draw close to the Lord. Helping your family to show a similar degree of respect to your husband is no guarantee that he’ll honor his role as family patriarch, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

Seeking the inspiration of the Lord, you must ultimately decide how to teach your children righteous principles while respecting your husband’s role as head of the family. However confusing and challenging that may seem, you can trust that the Lord will guide you as you fast, pray, and seek his inspiration in your unique situation.

[illustration] Nephi’s New Bow, by Gregory Sievers