In a crowded department store one December afternoon, I watched a salesclerk become frustrated as customers besieged her with requests. Finally she turned with a gasp of irritation and said, “Christmas! Who needs it?”
The question and the surroundings took me back to my senior year in high school. I was also a salesclerk, selling men’s clothing part-time.
It was Christmas Eve day. Snow was falling gently, and there seemed to be more shoppers than usual. They were weaving in and out of the displays, picking up last-minute gifts.
A few days earlier, several friends had called me asking, “Could you come to a party on Christmas Eve? We’re planning to meet up the canyon. It will be beautiful. Get a date and be with us.”
I was delighted with the prospect of being with a group of friends and enthusiastically looked forward to that social event. I had asked a lovely young woman to go with me, and she seemed to be as excited as I was.
As the time approached for the store to close and for me to leave for the party, a subtle uneasiness disturbed my positive feelings.
“What’s wrong?” I asked myself. Then reality struck. I did not want to be with my friends on this special night. I wanted to be with my family as I had been for the previous 16 or 17 Christmas Eves. Even though there were still customers shuffling about, I hurried to the telephone and called my friend.
“Don, I, er … well, I don’t know how to say this, but don’t count on me this evening. I’m going to spend Christmas Eve with my family.” I think he understood.
I quickly called my date. We agreed to spend time together during the holidays but not on that particular evening.
Suddenly a burden had been lifted. I had made the right decision.
And yet, while we enjoy Christmas in the warmth of our families, we should remember that many are not so fortunate. Homeless men and women walk the streets of our cities, far from family ties. Someone we know has lost a loved one to death this year. Another cannot afford the travel expense to join his family. Some are too ill to take part in the festivities. For these people, Christmas is not always a “season to be jolly.” It can be a time of depression and loneliness.
Surely these people have a right to ask, along with that frustrated salesclerk, “Who needs Christmas?”
We all have complaints about Christmas—the hustle and bustle, the added expense (a special burden for many who don’t even have a job), the commercialization. Besides, many Christmas traditions have their roots in pagan customs, and Jesus really wasn’t born in December anyway.
So who needs Christmas? We do! All of us! Because Christmas can bring us closer to the Savior, and he is the only source of lasting joy.
We need Christmas because every December millions of people open the Bible to Luke’s account of one of the greatest events in history, and we hear again what the shepherds heard: “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
The world was never the same again after the angel spoke those words. How could it be? Christ was born, fulfilling centuries of prophecy. And much of that prophecy was to his brothers and sisters in the Americas.
We need Christmas because it helps us to be better people, not only in December but in January, June, and November.
Because we need Christmas we had better understand what it is and what it isn’t. Gifts, holly, mistletoe, and red-nosed reindeer are fun as traditions, but they are not what Christmas is really all about. Christmas pertains to that glorious moment when the Son of our Father joined his divinity to our imperfect humanity. It is about his 33-year ministry of teaching mankind how to live, and his journey to the garden and then to the thorns and the cross. It is about a rocky hill where he died that we might live with joy.
It is about a garden tomb promising a new world in which death has no dominion. It is about his ascension and subsequent visit to the Nephites and Lamanites, his other sheep. It is about a new life for those who will accept his gift. Christmas is not just about a baby in a manger. It is about a loving older Brother who came down to be with his brothers and sisters in the world. It is about the eternal difference that his ministry has made. It is about all the manifestations of his love since that day, including the glorious visions in the Sacred Grove and the Kirtland Temple.
And what about those who are lonely or lost, for whom Christmas is a burden? Why do they need Christmas? Because, hopefully, we will reach out to them at this season and help to heal their wounds. Perhaps the greatest challenge and opportunity we face at Christmastime is to make Christmas real to people such as these.
I firmly believe that the only way to make Christmas real is to imitate the Master. We need to form living links with people everywhere whose loneliness needs brothering or sistering, whose hurts, physical and emotional, need healing, whose poverty cries out for bread and understanding. Jesus spent his life rescuing us all from ourselves. Shouldn’t we rescue others from loneliness and discouragement? Several teenage friends of our family have lost a parent this past year. A death of someone close always makes Christmas more difficult. They are on our list of holiday party guests. For a few hours we hope to lift some anxiety or pain from these good people. On the other hand, if we wish to make Christmas no more than a winter holiday or a week-long celebration, we can sit on our hands and do nothing.
And let’s be sure that our reaching out is not marked with any feelings of superiority. I will always remember the first time I went subbing for Santa. We had collected a number of toys, small Christmas trees, and baskets of fruit. Being high school seniors, we felt we finally understood the importance of giving at Christmas.
We went into one particular dark and dingy home. Several broken chairs were the only furniture. There was no food on the shelves. The children obviously would not have had any toys for Christmas had we not been there. I looked around the darkened living room, and there sat a television set. I thought to myself, “Why are we giving gifts at Christmas when these folks have spent their money on a television?”
After subbing for Santa that night, I went home and asked my father, “Dad, why would those people have a television set when they didn’t even have food or furniture?”
My father looked at me as if I really needed to understand. He said, “Hugh, that is all those people have. Perhaps for an hour or two a day it gives them some of the happiness you feel with your family and friends so much of the time.”
I think I grew up a little that Christmas. At least I was never again critical of what other people did when it came to those types of decisions.
At Christmastime no gift that we wrap will mean as much as the gift of ourselves. Several years ago some of the General Authorities were hurrying to leave the building during the Christmas hustle and bustle time. As we drove home, I noticed Elder Bruce R. McConkie leaving at the same time. It was several weeks later that I learned that instead of going home as most of the rest of us had done, he had gone to the LDS Hospital and there had gone from room to room blessing people, holding their hands, telling them that the Savior and others loved them. And so during that precious time when the rest of us felt we needed to be home, he took a few minutes to bring light into those people’s lives.
Elder McConkie understood something it takes many of us years to learn—that a simple expression of love can heal and bless the lives of others. So often we are not skilled in expressing love.
Satan does not approve of the kind of openness that it takes to say “I love you” because it brings happiness to both the giver and the receiver.
Once at a zone missionary conference in Philadelphia, I discussed the importance of expressing love. Later that day a missionary told me, “President, I have never told my father that I love him.”
I said, “Elder, pick up that telephone and call your father and let him know you love him.” Ordinarily we don’t encourage missionaries to call home, but I felt inspired that this young man should.
He said, “I can’t. My father works in a steel mill out on the slag pile, and he can’t be reached during the day. But I will call him tonight, I promise.”
I responded by saying, “Elder, after you call your father, please call me at the mission home. I would like to know what he said.”
Late that night the telephone rang. It was my missionary. He said, “President, I did it.”
I replied, “Tell me about it, elder.”
And this is what he said: “Mother picked up the phone. She was worried that something had happened. I assured her that all was well and that I wanted to speak to Dad. She handed the telephone to my father. He was still groggy because he had been asleep for a while, and he said, ‘What is it, son?’
“I said, ‘Dad, I love you.’ He started to cry and handed the telephone back to mother.
“She said, ‘What did you tell your father?’
“‘Mom, I told dad that I love him, and I want you to know how much I love and appreciate you.’”
Well, that missionary had many good days in the mission field, delightful times, but the greatest day of all, I suspect, was the day that he expressed love to his parents.
You can give a wonderful Christmas present just by telling someone you care.
Of course, the power to bless others is not in Christmas, but in doing what Christ would have us do. Christmas can focus our minds on the Savior’s mission, however, and help us discover ways in which we can be of use to him. Let us invite him into our lives.
Is there any better way of inviting Christ into our lives than by helping our fellowmen?
You and I can make our Christmas joy filled and meaningful by reaching into the life of another whose heart may be aching, whose body may be tired or filled with disease, or someone who is confused and misdirected. Shouldn’t we, who have been blessed with the fullness of the gospel, share our joy? Shouldn’t we stop asking, “Who needs Christmas?” and start asking “Who needs my help?”