Ten-year-old Olivia* rolled over on her side and tried to go back to sleep, even though she knew it would be impossible. After all, it was Christmas—Christmas 1843. “Well, just barely,” Olivia thought as she counted the 12 chimes that echoed softly from her mother’s clock.
Last Christmas, she had lived far away in Leek, England. Then Grandpa had listened to the missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “These men speak the truth,” he had said. Three months later, Olivia and her entire family were baptized, along with Grandpa Richard and Grandma Lettice Rushton.
The decision to leave England to join the Saints in America had been a very hard one. Would Grandpa be able to sell his silk business? What kind of work would Papa find? Would baby James get sick and die, like Mama’s other baby? And what about Grandma Lettice? Because she was blind, it would be especially difficult for her to leave her home for an unfamiliar land. After a lot of prayer and asking the Lord, Papa knew they needed to follow the counsel of the Prophet Joseph Smith and join the Saints in Zion.
And now it was Christmas—and Christmas in Nauvoo was very different from Christmas back home. For one thing, Grandpa Rushton had died, and Olivia missed him terribly. For another thing, people here in Nauvoo didn’t burn yule logs, sing carols, and exchange presents, as people in England did. In fact, many people in Nauvoo didn’t celebrate the day at all. Mama said that it was because of the religious customs many of them had before they joined the Church. But that didn’t seem like a very good reason to Olivia. “If only we could celebrate Christmas as we did in England!” she thought with a sigh.
Just then, she heard muffled voices by the front door. Olivia slid out of bed and tiptoed across the cold floor. “Mama?”
Her mother and father were bundled up in warm coats and hats!
“Where are you going, Mama?”
“What are you doing up, Olivia?” Mama whispered. “You should be in bed.”
“I couldn’t sleep—and then I heard you.”
“Well, go back to bed,” Mama said. “Grandma Lettice asked us to go singing with her.”
“Singing—now? May I come too?”
“It’s cold outside,” Papa said.
“I don’t mind,” Olivia replied. “Please?”
Mama and Papa exchanged glances. “Well, all right,” Papa said. “But you’ll have to dress quickly. We don’t want to be late.”
Olivia changed into her warmest clothes, then followed her parents into the chilly darkness. The cold stung her face, and her breath turned into puffy clouds. “Where are we going?” she asked. “Are we going to sing a song I know?”
“You’ll see,” Mama said.
Just as she was wondering how much farther she would have to walk, Olivia saw her aunts and uncles, Grandma Lettice, and several neighbors gathered together outside the Mansion House at the corner of Main Street and Water Street.
The Prophet’s house! Olivia caught her breath. “Are we going to sing to the Prophet?” she wondered.
“All right, everyone,” Grandma Lettice whispered. “Just as we rehearsed it.”
For a split second, Olivia wondered if it had been a mistake to come—she hadn’t rehearsed anything. But after hearing only two notes, Olivia realized that she did know the song. It was one of the songs in Sister Emma Smith’s hymnal. She took a deep breath and sang with the rest of the carolers:
“Mortals, awake! with angels join,
And chant the solemn lay;
Love, joy, and gratitude combine
To hail th’ auspicious day.”
(A Collection of Sacred Hymns for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints , number 77)
Soon lights flickered to life, and windows of the Mansion House opened. The Prophet Joseph Smith, his family, and the boarders who were living at the Smith home all looked out.
“Who’s singing?” someone asked.
“How lovely,” whispered another.
“Are there angels outside?”
Although Olivia wasn’t an angel, she certainly felt like one as a wave of warmth spread from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. “How happy the Prophet looks,” she thought.
When they finished singing, the Prophet thanked them for their beautiful serenade and blessed them in the name of the Lord.
“Merry Christmas,” Olivia called as she and the other singers left. All at once she didn’t want to be back in England anymore. She knew she belonged here with her family, the restored Church, and the Lord’s prophet. In fact, she couldn’t think of a better place to have Christmas.
We don’t know whether any children actually went along on the late-night caroling party. But the grandma in the story—Lettice Rushton—was a real person, and she and some of her family and neighbors actually did sing for the Prophet Joseph Smith on Christmas morning, 1843.
The mother of 10 children, Lettice Rushton became blind from cataracts five years before she was baptized. She was one of thousands of British converts who listened eagerly to the missionaries and immigrated with their families to Nauvoo to join the Saints.
The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded that at 1:00 on Christmas morning, 1843, Lettice Rushton and her family and neighbors gathered under his window and began singing, “which caused a thrill of pleasure to run through my soul.” The music so moved him that he “felt to thank … Heavenly Father for their visit, and blessed them in the name of the Lord.” (See History of the Church, 6:134.)