The Spirit of Christmas

Some years ago as I heard my little son recite what he thought was a new poem, I was reminded that this was the Christmas season.

“Daddy, I’ve learned a new poem,” he said, “and I’d like to teach it to you. I know you’ll like it.” He then recited:

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Clement C. Moore, A Visit from Saint Nicholas

He finished and said, “Isn’t that a wonderful poem, Daddy?”

I had an opportunity to tell him it was a wonderful poem, because almost everything that I associate with Christmas is important to me.

Just a couple of weeks before, I had had the privilege of taking my family downtown as Santa Claus made his appearance. It was interesting. Crowds gathered. One little girl had been standing on the side of the curb for what seemed to her like many minutes, waiting for this cherished event. Just as Santa Claus was to make his entry, great throngs of people crowded in front of her, blocking her view, and she began to cry.

A six-foot-three man who stood by her asked, “What’s the matter, dear?”

She said, “I have been waiting to see Santa, and now I can’t see him.”

He picked her up and placed her on his shoulders, providing her a commanding view. As Santa Claus came by, she waved her little hand toward him. He smiled and waved back to her and to everyone else in the crowd.

The little girl grabbed the hair of that big fellow and exclaimed, “He saw me! He saw me and smiled at me! I’m so glad it’s Christmas!” That little girl had the Christmas spirit.

As a very young elder, I went to the old Primary Children’s Hospital on North Temple Street to provide blessings for the sick children. Upon entering, we noted the Christmas tree with its bright and friendly lights and saw carefully wrapped packages beneath its outstretched limbs. We went through the corridors where tiny boys and girls—some with casts upon arms, some with casts upon legs, others with ailments that perhaps could not be cured so readily—each one with a smile upon his face.

I walked toward the bedside of one small boy. He said, “What is your name?” I told him.

He inquired, “Will you give me a blessing?” The blessing was provided, and as we turned to leave his bedside, he said “Thank you very much.”

We walked a few steps and then I heard his call, “Brother Monson.” I turned. He said, “Merry Christmas to you.” And a great smile flashed across his countenance.

That boy had the Christmas spirit.

The spirit of Christmas is something I would hope every young person would have in his heart and in his life, not only at this particular season but throughout the year.

I had the privilege of going to Atlanta, Georgia, and there saw the church where Peter Marshall presided. I thought of his declaration when he pleaded, “Let us not spend Christmas and let us not observe Christmas, necessarily, but let us keep Christmas in our hearts and in our lives.” This would be my plea today, for when we keep the spirit of Christmas, we keep the spirit of Christ, because the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit.

One who had a keen insight into the Christmas spirit wrote:

“I am the Christmas Spirit. I enter the home of poverty and cause palefaced children to open wide their eyes in pleased wonder. I cause the miser to release his clutched hand, thus painting a bright spot upon his soul.

“I cause the aged to remember their youth and to laugh in the glad old way. I bring romance to childhood and brighten dreams woven with magic.

“I cause eager feet to climb dark stairways with filled baskets, leaving behind hearts amazed at the goodness of the world.

“I cause the prodigal to pause in his wild and wasteful way and send to anxious love some little token which releases glad tears, washing away the hard lines of sorrow.

“I enter dark prison cells, causing scarred manhood to remember what might have been and pointing to better days yet to come.

“I enter the still white home of pain, and there lips that are too weak to speak just tremble in silent, eloquent gratitude.

“In a thousand ways I cause this weary old world to look up into the face of God and for a few moments forget everything that is small and wretched. You see, I am the Christmas Spirit.” (Author unknown.)

This is the spirit I pray we might have, because when we have the spirit of Christmas, we remember him whose birth we commemorate at this season of the year. We remember that first Christmas day—a Christmas day that was prophesied by the prophets of old. Recall with me the words of Isaiah, when he wrote:

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isa. 7:14.)

Again Isaiah declared:

“For unto us a child is born, … and his name shall be called … The Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6.)

On the American continent, the prophet said:

“The time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent … shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay. …

“… he shall suffer temptations, and pain, …

“And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mosiah 3:5, 7–8.)

Then came that night of nights when the shepherds were abiding in the fields and the angel of the Lord appeared to them, announcing:

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. …

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10–11.)

The shepherds with haste went to the manger to pay honor to Christ the Lord.

Wise men journeyed from the East to Jerusalem, saying:

“Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matt. 2:2, 10–11. Italics added.)

Since that time, the spirit of giving gifts has been present in the mind of each Christian as he commemorates the Christmas season. I wonder if each might profit today by asking himself, what gift would God have me give to Him or to others at this precious season of the year?

May I answer that question and in all solemnity declare to you that our Heavenly Father desires each one of his children to render unto him a gift of obedience so all will actually love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength. Then, I am sure, he will expect us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Were the Lord here today, I would not be surprised if he would instruct us to give generously of ourselves and not to be selfish, nor greedy, nor contentious, nor quarrelsome, remembering His words recorded in 3 Nephi, when he said:

“And there shall be no disputations among you. …

“For verily, verily I say unto you, … contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who … stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

“Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, … but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (3 Ne. 11 :28–30.)

I plead with you to rid from your lives any spirit of contention, any spirit wherein we might view one another for the spoils of life, but rather that we might work with our brethren and with our sisters for the fruits of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I trust we will not forget at this Christmas season the gratitude that must be within our hearts and that yearns to be expressed. I hope not one of us will take his birthright for granted. I hope no one will forget his mother or his father, but rather that each will honor father and honor mother. What finer Christmas gift could they receive than to know that a son or a daughter was honoring them by honoring God and living his commandments?

Once in Corpus Christi, Texas, a proud father came forward to me and slipped into my hand a letter from his son serving as a missionary in Australia. May I share this letter with you? It may suggest a format whereby you might express gratitude to your parents as a special and lasting Christmas gift this year. The letter reads:

“Dear Mom and Dad:

“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the many wonderful things you have done for me. I want to thank you for listening to the message the elders presented to you when they knocked at your door and thank you for the way you grasped the gospel and made it the mold by which you shaped your lives and the lives of your children. I love each of you very much.

“Thank you for the way you taught me, for your love which you expressed in many ways. Thank you for directing me in the right pathways, for showing me instead of forcing me. I am thankful for your beautiful testimonies and for the guiding love in which you helped me gain mine. I know the gospel is true. My few experiences here have strengthened my testimony. I pray that I might live up to your expectations, and with God’s help I will.

“Thank you again, Mom and Dad. “Your loving son, David”

What finer expression could a boy give his parents than the gift of gratitude?

I hope that in addition to the gift of gratitude that you bestow upon your parents, you will share this same gift with others of your loved ones—your brothers, your sisters, your relatives, your friends, those with whom you mingle and associate. They can benefit and be profited if you will give of yourselves in helping them to see the truth and to avoid the quicksands of life. Perhaps you may be the one able to light a spark in the lives of others and thus enable them to see their possibilities, rather than the problems that beset them day by day.

I would hope we would become experts in the field of human relations. Mr. Roger Woodruff, a great American industrialist, went from one end of this country to the other telling us how we might better get along with one another. He developed what he called a capsule course in human relations. He taught:

“The five most important words in the English language are these: I am proud of you.

“The four most important words in the English language are these: What is your opinion?

“The three most important words are: If you please.

“The two most important words are: Thank you.

“The least important word of all is: I.

Isn’t that a part of the spirit of Christmas, really—to forget self and to think of others?

I clipped an item taken from the diary of Mrs. Rebecca Riter, entered December 25, 1847. She describes that first Christmas in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake:

“The winter was cold. Christmas came and the children were hungry. I had brought a peck of wheat across the plains and hid it under a pile of wood. I thought I would cook a handful of wheat for the baby. Then I thought how we would need wheat for seed in the spring, so I left it alone.”

In our bounteous lives, we may well reflect upon the more meager Christmas seasons of our pioneer ancestors.

You might say to yourselves, “But that was yesterday. What about today? What about the season and the year in which we live? Have times changed? Is everyone so well off that he doesn’t need the real spirit of Christmas?

To you I would answer, “Times have not changed. The commandments of God are the same. The principles of gratitude and of giving of oneself are the same, because today, like yesterday, there are hearts to gladden and there are lives to cheer and there are blessings to bestow upon our fellowmen.”

You might say, “I am ill-equipped; my talents are so few.” Then I would ask you to take a little journey with me—a journey to a hospital in Salt Lake City, the University Hospital, where I had the privilege of being summoned to the side of a man, a man who was an inactive member of the Church and who had many weaknesses, a man who was in danger of dying. As I walked to the hospital ward, I noted the sign on the doorway, “Intensive care. Enter only with permission.” I sought the required permission, then went to the bedside of this good man.

The great machines of medical science were by his side, mechanically taking over when his heart would falter. An oxygen mask covered his face. He turned toward me, but there was no glimmer of recognition in his eyes, because the man in whose presence I stood was totally blind. Yet, as he heard my voice and thought back on more pleasant times, tears flowed, and he requested a blessing.

At the conclusion of the blessing, I recalled how this man had been blessed with a beautiful voice. While he was not a regular attender at church, he would come—particularly on Mother’s Day—and sing the beautiful number “That Wonderful Mother of Mine” and other songs honoring mothers. No person who ever heard him sing left without acquiring a deeper appreciation for his own mother that resulted in his honoring her and all womanhood. Similarly, he would participate in Christmas programs and would sing “O Holy Night.” No person who heard him sing this song came away without dedicating his life to better serving the Lord and keeping Christmas rather than spending Christmas.

The thought came into my heart that here is a man who, in his own humble way, has used the talent God had given him to bring joy and happiness into the lives of others. Multiply his talent (a beautiful voice) by the many talents you possess—then plan where your Christmas opportunity might be this very year. Your opportunity may come at a time when you least expect it.

The Christmas of 1953 was one I shall long remember. A telephone call came from the teacher of a Sunday School class in one of the more affluent wards on the east bench of Salt Lake City. She asked if there were any poor living in our ward—persons who needed help at Christmas time. I responded that there were no poor people who had not been provided the necessities of life, but perhaps an experience could be had which would benefit her class members as well as a particular family whom I had in mind.

I was thinking of a certain family in our ward. Henry, his wife, and children had come from Germany. They lived in modest circumstances. All during the war Henry and his mother had prayed that he would never have to take human life. Strangely enough, Henry served four years during the war, three of which were spent on the Russian Front. His assignment? Ambulance driver. Their prayer was answered.

As the teacher and I made the plans for the Christmas activity, I suggested that if each girl or boy could bring to the family on the appointed night a gift that meant a great deal to him or to her personally, then each would have a Christmas that would long be remembered.

That evening the parking lot of the ward contained one Chrysler, one Cadillac, and two Oldsmobiles. Such an array of wealth had never before graced that parking area. The cars were left at the chapel. We walked to the home singing carols along the way.

At the family home between Fourth and Fifth South on Second West, the Christmas spirit truly entered each heart. One girl handed to one of the family’s daughters a lovely doll that she had had from her girlhood. She showed the tiny girl how to caress the doll and to hold it ever so tenderly in her arms.

One of the boys handed to a small boy his baseball glove carrying the Lou Gehrig signature. He then explained to the young German brother how to catch a baseball. Such was the case with each gift.

We returned to the ward, there to have the traditional donuts and apple cider. Almost in unison the young boys and girls spoke out: “This has been the greatest experience of our lives.”

I thought of the second verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”:

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

As we left the chapel that night, all of us who had participated in making Christmas come alive reflected upon the words of the Master:

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40.)