Christmas is one of the happiest and most memorable times of any year. As we prepare for the holiday, our thoughts carry us beyond that night in Bethlehem, and we think of the glorious gift our Father in heaven gave to us by sending His Son to earth almost 2,000 years ago.
As the members of the First Presidency think of Christmases with families and friends, they remember, too, the mission of Jesus Christ and the gift of His life for each of us. Now at this Christmastime of 1977, they wish to share some of their memories and thoughts with boys and girls throughout the world.
It is Christmastime and again my thoughts turn to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and to the first Christmas.
It was a dream come true for Sister Kimball and me to be in Bethlehem one Christmas Eve some years ago. December 24 was a beautiful Sunday there and early that morning we held a sacrament meeting in Baghdad, Iraq, with a family in whose home we were guests. Afterward we flew to Damascus in Syria and then went on to Jerusalem. People from many lands were gathered there on that sacred night, waiting to be taken over the 18 kilometer winding hill road to Bethlehem.
Arriving in Jerusalem, we found the square so crowded with people that it was easy for our thoughts to go back to that first Christmas when Joseph and Mary were told “There was no room for them in the inn.”
To add to the confusion of the milling throng, Christmas carols blared out from a sound truck, and bells rang from the cupolas of the Church of the Nativity that had been built back in the fourth century. The church is built on the square over a grotto that many believe to be the true site of the manger where the Christ Child was born.
A low door and narrow steps lead into the grotto. With difficulty we made our way there. It was lighted by many candles and hung with rich drapes. With the eager crowd, we tried to meditate and relive, in contemplation, the story of that most important of all births.
Afterwards we were fortunate to find a taxi to take us about 3 km down the hillside to the Shepherd Fields where at last we found a quiet peace on that crisp, clear night. There were only four of us there on the hillside where the shepherds had been watching their flocks on that first Christmas Eve..
The moon shone with unusual brilliance, and the sky was studded with stars. In imagination, we could almost hear the “multitude of heavenly hosts praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”
We looked up the hill to the twinkling lights of Bethlehem and felt impressed to softly sing,
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie …
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
Afterwards I offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the privilege of that Bethlehem Christmas and for my knowledge of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. My heart was filled with joy to know that He marked for us the plan, the way of life, whereby if we are faithful we may someday see Him and express our gratitude personally for His perfect life and His sacrifice for us.
As I reflect on the Christmases of my boyhood, I remember that we were poor.
And with eight children to provide for, our parents did well to furnish us with food and clothing. Our gifts were mostly homemade and not too numerous, but we had lots of fun. A great deal of love was exchanged by word and deed, thanks to our noble parents.
The most important gift we received—although we may not have realized it then—was a true understanding of the oft-repeated story about the birth of our Lord and Savior. That knowledge and testimony has been the basis for every Christmas observance I have participated in since my youth. Through the years all of my own children and grandchildren who can gather in their own little family groups, wherever they may be, reenact the story of the Baby Jesus and emphasize the importance of this event and its effect on the lives of all mankind.
Perhaps I was influenced too—as have been countless thousands of others—by the words of Charles Dickens as he wrote that immortal classic, A Christmas Carol. We recall the habitual response of “Bah! Humbug!” that Ebenezer Scrooge gave to any Christmas greeting. On one such occasion his cheerful nephew replied: “I have always thought of Christmastime … as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time … and I say, God bless it!”
Then you will remember Scrooge’s dream when the Ghost of Christmas Past appeared and said to him: “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link … and of my own free will I wore it.”
Thus Scrooge was reminded of his own neglect of his fellowmen and his heart began to soften. By the time of the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Present, he was able to say, “Tonight, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.”
Then when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come appeared, Scrooge said: “I am prepared for what you have to say to me … with a thankful heart.”
As he was shown the sad fates of some he had failed to help and foresaw his own lonely death, he pleaded, “Assure me that I yet may change … [and] I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
He was overjoyed when he awakened and found that he was still alive and had time to make amends, which he promptly set about to do.
May we live so that we will have no regrets for Christmases past. May our present Christmases be filled with the joy that comes from keeping the commandments that our Lord and Savior came to teach. May we continue to look forward with expectation for happier Christmases to come because we have shared our blessings with others. And may it be said of us, that “he knew how to celebrate Christmas reverence.”
Christmas for young people today is quite different than Christmas was for me more than sixty years ago. For example, there is a great difference in the way we get Christmas trees. When I was a boy we used to go out onto the sidehills and cut the trees. I remember once my brother and I dragged a Christmas tree off the hill and when we got home there was only one side of it left. We had to stand it up in the corner so the bare side wouldn’t show.
We used to make all of our own decorations. We’d take tissue paper and cut it into strips and paste it together to make chains. And we’d pop corn and then string it to make garlands with which to decorate the tree.
We’d always have a special dinner on Christmas.
My uncle, Gaskill Romney, operated a wood finishing mill and a sash and door factory. He had a lathe on which he would turn out baseball bats for Christmas presents for the boys, and we used to make our own little cabinets for the girls. Our toys were not as sophisticated as they are now.
But Christmas was always a happy time. To us it was the day the Savior was born.
Our dear young friends, remember that He whose birthday we celebrate was the Son of God, the Eternal Father and the Redeemer of the world.
May this Christmastime be a glorious and happy time for each of you.
With love and joyous Christmas wishes,