Q&A: Questions and Answers


Answers are for help and perspective, not as pronouncements of Church doctrine

“If Christ was born in the spring, why do we celebrate Christmas in December?”

Answer/Brother Richard O. Cowan

First let us review how we know the Savior was born in April. As directed by revelation, the Church was organized on April 6, 1830 (a Tuesday), which was “eighteen hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh.” (D&C 20:1.) Thus we schedule general conference sessions on April 6 each year; we are not only marking the anniversary of the Church’s organization, but we are commemorating the Lord’s birth as well.

The Book of Mormon bears a similar testimony. The Nephites dated their calendars from the time of Christ’s birth. (See 3 Ne. 2:8.) Then, the sign of Christ’s crucifixion was given “in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month.” (3 Ne. 8:5) This meant that Jesus Christ’s mortal life lasted almost exactly 33 years, and therefore his birth and crucifixion occurred in about the same season of the year. This would have been early spring because the New Testament indicates that Christ was crucified at Passover time, which falls in that part of the year.

Bible scholars generally agree that Jesus was not born in the winter.

“It could not … have fallen in January or December, since at this time of the year the flocks are not found in open fields during the night. … Moreover, a census which made traveling necessary, would not have been ordered at this season.” 1

Well, then, why do we celebrate Christmas in December? The answer lies in the early centuries when missionaries first carried Christianity to the peoples of northern Europe. Pope Gregory (A.D. 590–604) instructed these missionaries: “Remember not to interfere with any traditional belief or religious observance that can be harmonized with Christianity.” 2 Such instructions opened the door to many pagan ideas and practices being introduced into Christianity. The observance of Christmas provides several examples.

December 25 was at the heart of the northern European mid-winter festival. There was a fearful superstition that as autumn days became shorter and shorter the sun might sometime completely disappear below the southern horizon and never return. Each year the coming of the winter solstice dispelled this fear, and the people rejoiced that the sun would again come back to warm their northern lands. Early Christian missionaries chose to link this important pagan celebration with the birth of Christ.

“The Christmas tree was a substitute for the sacred oaks and other trees used in pagan rights … interpreting the evergreen as the symbol of the everlasting Christ, in place of the leaf dropping trees of paganism. The green, gold and red lights which the pagan used in their trees to coax the sun-god to return, were re-interpreted to represent the frankincense, gold, and myrrh which the wise men brought to Jesus.” 3

Thus, as the Encyclopedia Britannica concludes, the observance of Christmas “is attended with secular customs often drawn from pagan sources.” 4

Some might ask if we are wrong in celebrating Christmas in December. Actually we should think about the Lord and his mission throughout the entire year—including December 25. Perhaps our greater concern ought to be how rather than when we commemorate the Savior’s birth. In a Christmas message the First Presidency counseled us:

“… may the true Christmas spirit rest upon each of us this season. May we help reverse the trend toward the gross commercialization of Christmas by gathering our families about us and reading and reflecting on the beautiful story of His birth. May we demonstrate our love for others not only with thoughtful gifts and messages, but also with expressions of love and kindness. May we demonstrate our love for God by worshiping Him in spirit and truth and by obeying His commandments.” 5

Members of our family have tried to more adequately remember Christ and share the true spirit of Christmas with others by acting out the events surrounding Jesus’ birth as described in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke. We have also enjoyed a special home evening reading the Christmas story in the Bible and singing carols.

Professor of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University

    Notes

  1.   1.

    Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (New York: Harper Brothers, 1872), 7:877.

  2.   2.

    Quoted T. Edgar Lyon. Apostasy to Restoration, Melchizedek Priesthood Manual, 1960, p. 218.

  3.   3.

    Ibid.

  4.   4.

    Encyclopedia Britannica, 1973 edition, 5:704–5.

  5.   5.

    Church News, December 18, 1971, p. 3.

“Should we tell others about our patriarchal blessings?”

Answer/Brother Doyle L. Green

Perhaps this question could be answered by analyzing information provided for those who might wish to obtain copies of patriarchal blessings from the Historical Department of the Church in the event the original copy has been lost or accidentally destroyed.

1. Any person may obtain a copy of his own patriarchal blessing.

2. Direct descendants may obtain copies of blessings of their deceased ancestors.

3. Direct descendants may obtain copies of blessings of living ancestors with the written approval of such ancestors.

4. Progenitors may obtain copies of blessings of their direct descendants.

5. Husbands and wives may obtain copies of each other’s blessings.

This information, published in the latest edition of Suggestions to Patriarchs, emphasizes the idea that although patriarchal blessings are given for the comfort, guidance, and encouragement of individuals, they may still be shared with their families. In fact, concerned parents, grandparents, and older brothers and sisters can often help interpret the meaning of blessings and give encouragement to the recipients to live worthy to receive those blessings.

On other appropriate occasions persons may feel impressed to refer to promises made or instructions given in their blessings; however, it would ordinarily seem out of harmony with the spirit of the program to read blessings, to quote at length from them, or to discuss them in detail outside intimate family groups.

Patriarch in the Salt Lake Butler Stake, Editor, Church Magazines

“When and where is it acceptable for young women to wear pants when involved in Church-related activities?”

Answer/Sister Hortense H. Child

In many countries the choice of how women dress is made for them. For instance, as you leave the airplane in the tiny East African country of Malawi, you immediately see a sign that reads in part:

“In Malawi it is traditional for women not to appear in public in dresses that expose any part of the leg above the knee … also restrictions for women are shorts and trousers worn in public.

“Thoughtful and courteous visitors will respect our local customs and avoid any possibility of embarrassment by conforming with our conventions on female attire.”

In most parts of the world, however, women wear pants, shorts, miniskirts, or short and long dresses as they choose. And because of the great variety of choice, decisions of what to wear must be made. Latter-day Saint girls have to make such decisions in the face of fads and styles and many varied activities. Customs of the country you live in, the friends you have, the family you belong to, and the day in which you live all influence what is acceptable in dress for women.

I suppose two of the most frequently asked questions that I receive in my contacts with girls and adult leaders throughout the Church are: “When and where can girls wear pants?” “Do they have to change into dresses for certain activities?”

Very frequently we find adult leaders and youth in disagreement about the appropriateness and acceptability of dress. It is easy to forget that what is acceptable for one may not be for another.

Often there is a difference between what is acceptable in the world and what is appropriate for Latter-day Saint women to wear. To be acceptable, something is satisfactory or agreeable. To be appropriate means that which is proper and suitable. Often what is acceptable is not appropriate, but generally what is appropriate will be acceptable. How, then, can you be helped to know what is appropriate for you to wear as you engage in Church-related or other activities?

Following is the statement of the First Presidency of the Church made in June 1971 regarding women’s dress:

“The Church has not attempted to indicate just how long women’s or girls’ dresses should be nor whether they should wear pant suits or other types of clothing. We have always counseled our members to be modest in their dress, maintaining such standards in connection therewith as would not be embarrassing to themselves and to their relatives, friends, and associates.

“We have advised our people that when going to the temple they should not wear slacks or miniskirts, or otherwise dress immodestly. We have not, however, felt it wise or necessary to give instructions on this subject relative to attendance at our Church meetings, although we do feel that on such occasions they should have in mind that they are in the house of the Lord and should conduct themselves accordingly.” (Priesthood Bulletin, June 1971.)

The Brethren who published this statement are prophets of God who are motivated by their knowledge of God, his purpose and plan of life, and a deep desire to assist us all to live happily and righteously. They have advised and given counsel. They have not instructed in detail as to what is acceptable except to say that we are advised not to wear slacks or miniskirts when attending the temple. Their counsel is to be modest and avoid embarrassment to ourselves, our families, and our friends.

When and where you young women wear pants, except in those cases that are defined by those having authority to do so, is a decision that you yourselves must make in consultation with your parents and leaders.

There are some basic correct principles you should be aware of before making the decision as to whether or not pants should be worn:

1. You should know that as a Latter-day Saint girl you have a special calling as a woman, distinct and different from men, and thus are responsible for making a womanly contribution to life and the Lord’s plan.

2. The Lord intended that men and women be different and fulfill specific roles. When a young woman dresses femininely, she helps to keep those roles clarified and defined.

3. Stake and district presidents, bishops, and branch presidents are called to be spiritual leaders in their stakes, districts, wards, and branches and have a responsibility to set guidelines for dress that will aid in the spiritual development of those members under their jurisdiction.

4. When and where young women wear pants may be determined by those who are involved in planning the event to be held. Recently a committee of youth leaders discussed at great length whether or not young women should wear pants to a dance at a youth conference. After counseling together, the young people decided that dressy pants for both young men and young women were appropriate, but not “grubbies” or denims.

5. The nature of the event to be held will have a great bearing on whether or not pants are to be worn. For today’s active, energetic young women who participate in sports and other vigorous activities, wearing pants is both acceptable and appropriate for those occasions. In response to my question about when he thought it was appropriate for young women to wear pants, a young priest recently said to me, “When a girl wants to be at her very best and look her prettiest and be really dressed up, she will wear a dress.” There are many occasions in Church-related activities when a girl wants and needs to be her prettiest and be “really dressed up.” One of these, of course, is at sacrament meeting where we come to worship our Father in heaven. For other meetings of a sacred nature or special cultural events, a dress will be most appropriate.

In making your decisions as to when pants are appropriate for a Church-related activity, you might ask yourself the following:

Has there been a general definition of dress standards issued by the local priesthood authorities? If so, to dress contrary to that definition would be inappropriate.

Has the type of dress to be worn been defined by those who are responsible for the event?

Would I, my family, or my friends be embarrassed by my wearing pants to this occasion?

Will my attire permit me to participate fully in the activity?

Will my attire contribute positively to the atmosphere and tone of the occasion?

Have I added a feminine influence to the occasion?

Will my Heavenly Father be pleased with me?

Will I be pleased with myself?

Further wise counsel has been given by the General Authorities:

“… Guided by the Holy Spirit, let parents, teachers, and youth consider the particulars of dress, grooming, and personal appearance, and with free agency accept responsibility and choose the right.” (Priesthood Bulletin, Sept. 1970.)

Therefore, young women, you and your parents must evaluate and decide when you will wear pants. You have the ability with the help of your Heavenly Father to decide for yourself what is appropriate and acceptable to wear based on correct principles and understanding. When you do this, the world can be more beautiful because of you.

First Counselor in the General Presidency of the Young Women

“If Satan had never come to earth, would there still be evil?”

Answer/Brother Ellis T. Rasmussen

While it is not a vital question to ask what “would be” (since what is will be, and what might have been will not be), it may be useful for us to consider whether there is any source of evil besides Satan. On that point James made a clear statement:

“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:

“But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

“Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:12–15.)

Evidently, then, there is a potential for evil as well as for good in our appetites and desires. Their satisfaction must be accomplished in the ways the Lord intended if they are to bring forth good. Whether we would ever bring forth evil if there were no satanic influence for evil is treated by Lehi:

“Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.

“And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God.” (2 Ne. 2:16, 17)

A suitable summary of the matter is also found in a statement by Lehi: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” (2 Ne. 2:11.)

Dean of the College of Religious Instruction, Brigham Young University