My question deals with the Christmas holiday. Many Biblical scholars agree that Jesus was born sometime in the spring and not winter. With that knowledge, why do Latter-day Saints celebrate what appears to be a holiday replete with false teachings (the Magi visiting the newborn Jesus, when in fact, the Magi visited Jesus when he was two years old) and commercialism (rampant gift buying, decorating, parties, etc.)? If we are going to celebrate the Savior’s birth, why not do it in April and why not have it be more solemn? I feel very conflicted about the emphasis the Church leadership places on the holiday, such as decorating temples and having a First Presidency Christmas devotional. I want to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but if we are going to, shouldn’t it at least be correct? I would appreciate your insight.
Your bah humbugs on the Christmas holiday fall into three categories:
1. Inaccuracies told in the Christmas story
2. Rampant commercialism during this holiday season
3. Overly-festive celebrations
I’ll try to address them all before you boil me in my own pudding.
You list two specific inaccuracies regarding the Christmas story: the timing of the magi’s arrival (if we want to be biblically accurate, we should say “wise men” instead of magi”), and the season of the birth (even going so far as to propose the month of April). Regarding the wise men, I am not familiar with the Church institutionalizing the belief that they were worshiping the Holy Infant at the stable right alongside the shepherd. The closest I’ve seen are some crèches, which essentially acknowledge the wise men’s place in the nativity. Their inclusion in such a display is a diorama’s equivalent of a film’s montage. And as far as the April birthday is concerned, I’ve already mentioned in the past that it is inconsequential. The celebration is the thing.
Speaking of celebrations, I’ll go ahead and address your third grinching. You propose a solemn style of holiday, without the trappings tossed on the temple or even a devotional held by the First Presidency. I would think an hour of talks by Christ’s earthly representatives would be exactly what you are seeking here. Now when it comes to celebrations in general, there are a variety. It is wholly appropriate at times (say, a sealing) to rejoice in reverence and solemnity. It is also wholly appropriate at other times to “praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving” (D&C 136:28). And if there’s a time to praise the Lord, surely it would be at the annual commemoration of “the condescension of God (exclamation point)” (1 Nephi 11:26). Regarding the lights in particular, symbols only have whatever representative power we give them. For most of the Christian world, lights have become so synonymous with Christmas that they are casually referred to as Christmas lights. They are simply meant to bring to mind that this is the season of joy when God’s Son was born. Not even citizens of heaven could refrain from celebrating that night. Allow other’s (especially members of Christ’s church) the same rejoicing in their own way.
Finally, let’s resolve the commercialism. I can relate. I really can. Gift giving is not my way of saying, “I love you”. Spending money is not my way of celebrating. Nevertheless, I do have loved ones who feel differently, and so one December evening I found myself at the local, overcrowded mall. As I stood in a painfully slow line, I saw yet another advertisement staring at me, commercializing Christmas even more. I grumbled something especially Kranks-worthy. A kind woman next to me then spoke up. “I hear a lot of people complain that Christmas has become too commercialized,” she said. “That it’s too secular and too stressful. That’s what I hear, but that’s not what I see. Take a look at that hallway.” I obediently looked at the bustling crowd as she continued. “I see joy. I see happiness. I see people thinking about others and focused on the cares of another person.” At that moment I saw a mother stop and show her child a gift they had just purchased. It was obvious from their enthusiasm and excitement that they had found the perfect give for someone very dear. This pair gave way to a cheerful person chatting cheerily on his phone about how fortunate it was that they had just the thing he was after and so-and-so will be so pleased with it. Face after face beamed as it passed. I was reminded that I will find exactly what I am looking for. If I look for commercialism, secularism, and paganism, I will find invariably find it. If I look for giving, Christianity, and merriment, I will undoubtedly find it. My heart grew three sizes that day.