L. Hannah Stoddard
My family knows I am one of the ‘crazies’ who plays Christmas music all year round and claims winter as the best season of the year—everything about it. The snow, the holidays, the decoration style, the colors. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and our entirely refurbished Christmas really are the highlight of the year!
Frankly, I can completely understand why many, including myself, have spent a lot of time analyzing and rethinking Christmas. How do we avoid breeding self-centeredness in children with all the gifts? Are we really celebrating Jesus, or just bolting him on the side? What traditions are building the Kingdom of God, and what activities are just distractions and idleness? What about traditions that stem from pagan origins? These are a few Christmas traditions our family has adopted as we have endeavored to make Christmas a season that brings the Spirit of God into our home, leaving us with greater humility, repentance, love, and consecration. Imagine if every home wrapped up the Christmas season a better disciple of Jesus Christ — rather than being bloated from 15 lbs+ of junk food consumed and exhausted from a hectic holiday schedule? That doesn’t mean we cut happiness as grumpy grinch killjoys — it just means we replace temporary pleasure with deep, real, lasting JOY!
This post is by NO MEANS comprehensive—just a few stories from our family that we hope than inspire and uplift you this Christmas season!
Personally, our family moved away from obligatory gift-giving a number of years ago as we chose to eliminate anything that contributed to a feeling of entitlement or selfishness — instead exchanging gifts throughout the year when someone felt inspired or when a particular need arose. I can remember my dad giving me my own copy of Answers to Gospel Questions at 10 years old, a book I treasured, marking it with my own personalized book stamp. Shortly after he gave it to me, I was in a situation where I was shocked to find someone I deeply loved betrays and shatter my trust in them. In a moment of broken confusion, I went into my room and saw my copy of Answers to Gospel Questions and the thought came distinctly to my mind, “You can gain your own testimony and own certain knowledge of what is TRUTH. You do not need to depend on anyone else, go straight to God. No matter what anyone else does, there you will find a foundation that will never fail.” Joseph Fielding Smith’s writings led me to establish my own personal knowledge of God—and it all started with a gift from my dad.
My dad also purchased items that gave him opportunities to bond with us as children. For example, when I was six or seven, he brought home a lego castle set from a business trip in Germany. He patiently spent hours with us assembling the kit, teaching us along the way gospel symbolism in fortresses, ancient medieval crests, and military strategies for an effective defense.
I never saw my dad spend time pursuing a hobby or activity that he didn’t involve his kids in and if we weren’t able to take part, he would cast it aside. His family was his hobby and all his recreation was centered around us. Now that he has passed away, these memories will be treasured by all of his children and never forgotten as a testimonial of what it means for a man to put his God and family FIRST.
My dad endeavored to teach us that every gift in our home should have meaning, should be personalized, and draw us closer to God. However, I never thought of gift-giving as a spiritual gift until I met my friend Michelle. She has an incredible spirit of discernment and inspiration that has blessed our family in immeasurable ways. Every gift I have received from her (and I have received many) has literally been a Godsend, without Michelle often knowing the backstory or perhaps the private pleadings in prayer. From artwork that helped us refocus on God during difficult periods, from journals that just ‘happened’ to have a scripture God used as prophecy, from a pair of running shoes right when the last pair completely gave out, Michelle has taught me that while gift-giving can be used for selfishness and commercialization — God is known in scripture as a father who gives “good gifts” (Matthew 7:11) and with wisdom and righteousness, we can acquire this gift — blessing the lives of others by being inspired in our gift-giving.
This by no means implies that gifts have to be objects. They could be items that communicate sacrificial love and commitment. For example, many, many years ago, I felt impressed with the idea of writing out prayers for my future husband. Writing out the prayers kept my mind focused and created a tangible record of impressions I received over the years. I preserved each letter carefully, intending to give them as a gift to him on my wedding day as a symbol of my attempt to stay pure, true, and loyal to our covenants—long before I could ever know his name. Be creative! Be inspired and use gifts to draw your family closer to Jesus Christ.
Another approach to gift-giving was recently brought to my attention by my uncle who shared that in his home, he tries to invest in gifts for his children that will contribute to their future families. He wants his sons and daughters to be prepared with the practical equipment and tools needed to build a home. Power tools, cooking dishes, . . . the list goes on. I personally loved this idea because it is not only practical but also communicates to the child that their parent is invested in helping them succeed and embrace their calling as a righteous father or mother!
I appreciated the “5 Gift Evaluation Questions” published by Generations with Vision last year, which serve as a valuable resource for families who are endeavoring to raise the bar in their gift-giving this year:
- Will this gift point my loved one back to thankfulness for Jesus Christ?
- What could you give that would help your loved one to know and imitate God better?
- Will this gift be edifying and helpful today, tomorrow, and a year after that?
- What could you give that would help your loved one become more productive, responsible, and effective at serving God and others?
- What are the God-given abilities and heartbeat that you see in your loved one? What could you give that would help them be a faithful steward of those abilities?
- What key knowledge or skills will they need to serve God and others in the marketplace or as a form of ministry? Do they need tools or “building materials” so they can do the work?
- Will the gift encourage my loved one to take responsibility? Are these gifts helpful tools for the purpose of making money or serving others in some way? Or will it feed their natural desires to not think and to selfishly be served by others?
- What could you give that would strengthen relationships and interactions in your family? Or will this gift encourage my loved one to isolate themselves in their own little world?
- What kinds of gifts have been enjoyable and helpful to your loved one in the past?
There are few things that bring the Spirit of God into a home with greater power and effectiveness than music. Singing together as a family creates bonds, strengthens unity, and teaches the Gospel to children far more effectively than most sermons. My dad always emphasized this in our home and in December, we had a list of Christmas carols we would sing. I can remember driving home from our farm many cold nights when my dad would say, “Start us out on a song, Peps!” (my nickname) and we would sing and sing until our spirits were cheered up. My first memories of “The First Noel” and “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains” start when I was no more than seven or eight, listening to my family, with my Uncle Jared and Aunt Kaylene singing as we kids endeavored to pick up the melody. My dad even wrote two Christmas carols, both inspired by the Book of Mormon, which I will include below.
Consider singing carrying on a Restoration tradition as well, in light of the event when Joseph Smith was awakened at 1 am on Christmas Day in 1843 to beautiful singing outside his home:
“Mortals, awake! with angels join,” &c., which caused a thrill of pleasure to run through my soul. All of my family and boarders arose to hear the serenade, and I felt to thank my Heavenly Father for their visit, and blessed them in the name of the Lord. They also visited my brother Hyrum, who was awakened from his sleep. He arose and went out of doors. He shook hands with and blessed each one of them in the name of the Lord, and said that he thought at first that a cohort of angels had come to visit him, it was such heavenly music to him.History, 1838–1856, volume E-1 [1 July 1843–30 April 1844], pg 182
Carol of a Vision
Text: James F. Stoddard (1 Nephi 11)
Music: English Carol from Coventryhttps://www.youtube.com/embed/FVfRuVmNXzc?feature=oembed
Know ye the condescension of
our Father and His Son?
A virgin fair exceedingly,
above all beautiful.
The mother of the Son of God,
aft’ manner of the flesh,
on Spirit’s wing was carried away.
The angel bid me, Look.
Behold the Lamb of God is born,
Eternal Father’s Son.
The virgin I beheld again,
the Child born in her arms.
Behold the condescension of
our Father and His Son.
Redeemer of the world is come.
Eternal Tree of Life.
Carol of the Other Sheep (Nephi’s Testament)
Written By: Mormon and James F. Stoddard (3 Nephi 1, Helaman 14)
Music: “Huron Carol” (or “Twas in the Moon of Wintertime”)https://www.youtube.com/embed/4_hpU2aSf5Y?feature=oembed
For there were some who said the time was past, our faith was vain.
My people’s joy and faith were tried, some sorrowful for fear.
Yet steadfastly watched for that day, and night, and day, as if no night.
At the going down of sun,
His words fulfilled:
For a sign great lights in heav’n.
A day was set apart to put to death all true believers.
My heart exceeding sorrowful, I bowed down to my God.
I cried all day with all my might, His voice came in behalf my people:
“Lift your head, be of cheer;
The time at hand.
On this night, the sign is giv’n.”
I come unto My own, My Word fulfilled from the foundation.
I come to do the will both of the Father and the Son.
Whoso believeth on the Son, shall everlasting life receive.
Lamb of God, I am born.
Father for thee,
I will glorify Thy Name.
The Father of the Heavens and the Father of the Earth.
Creator of all things from the beginning, Son of God.
A new star shall arise, such an one never hath been seen afore.
Many wonders and signs
In heav’n above.
In excelsis gloria.
We’ve also begun organizing some of our favorite Christmas music into a playlist, which you can find on Youtube here:
Consecrated Ornaments and Decor
One last idea is to use your ornaments and decor to draw your family closer to Jesus Christ. For example, some friends made us beautiful “Holiness to the Lord” ornaments a few years ago. Another friend made these ornaments resembling the Seal of Melchizedek.
When we were growing up, I can remember my dad setting up nativity scenes with us—along the way, teaching us doctrines and little-known facts about Mary, the Angel Gabriel, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, and other historical details of the Birth of Christ. We never just “set up” Christmas decorations, there was always a Gospel lesson or discussion tied to it but he had a gift for making the Gospel interesting so the conversations were fascinating!
In 2018, our family was given a beautiful, unexpected Christmas gift from a neighbor in our ward. We didn’t know this couple very well, but they knocked unexpectedly at our door and said that they were touched by my father’s testimony on Joseph Smith given in sacrament meeting sometime before. Since Joseph Smith’s birthday was December 23rd, they felt prompted to add a “Baby Joseph Smith” with their “Baby Jesus” in a manger and they wanted us to have a “set”. Such a wonderful thing to celebrate these two great Prophets during this season. It was moving to see the two infants, side by side, and take a moment to ponder how everything Joseph Smith did pointed us to Jesus Christ and we in turn are called to point others to the Light of the World, the Son of God. We gained a new family tradition!
Activities for Kids
And last, but not least, sometimes you have to get a little creative with the kids. One year, Eliza and I went from room to room with window markers drawing messages about light and hope as part of our decoration for the season.
I also remember one year when I was seven when my dad assigned us to pick a Christmas primary song and illustrate the words with our wooden toys. This was such a creative, think-outside-the-box, hands-on and activity and you know what? We NEVER forgot the words to the song we chose, “Stars Were Gleaming.” It’s embedded forever in our memories!
Our family is a BIG fan of using movies to teach doctrine, history, and character — inspiring children with larger-than-life heroes and heroines who will call them to greatness.
The Star of Bethlehem
One of our favorite traditions this time of year is to watch The Star of Bethlehem. If you haven’t already seen it, please do! It is even available on YouTube. There is a beautiful spirit that accompanies this message testifying that the heavens truly do declare the glory of God. One of the messages that struck me watching it this year is that the Lord rarely calls “credentialed” experts to do His work. He chooses those who are weak in advantages, money, and opportunity but are strong in faith, humility, and obedience. The man who did this research is not an astronomer, he is a lawyer. But he had faith that scripture could be trusted and he wanted to defend its authenticity to other believers. God took his faith and blessed him to do marvelous work. We are living in a day when I believe the Lord is speaking and He wants us to HEAR the repeated witnesses of the Gospel.
P.s. After you have seen it, you won’t want to miss this deleted scene.
The Ghost of Dickens’ Past
Our family has tried to raise the bar by focusing outward, instead of inward. Instead of becoming obsessed with what we want to eat, buy, watch and play, this is a wonderful time to remember that the Lord lived the life of a servant, continually sacrificing everything He wanted to help someone else. This is a wonderful season to recommit! The Ghost of Dickens’ Past is a wonderful movie that reminds us that “whoever will save his life shall lose it: and whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16) https://www.youtube.com/embed/UtrCQ5JA1Pw?feature=oembed
A Christmas Carol
No need to say more. https://www.youtube.com/embed/r1vMnZ0AhYE?feature=oembed
Attributes of Christ Movie Marathon
My friend Julie shared a wonderful “Christmas movie challenge” a few years ago. She decided to hold a movie marathon around Christmas time to teach the attributes of Jesus Christ through film. Julie shares more details about this wonderful tradition on her blog, “Passing Down the Faith.”https://passingdownthefaith.org/2021/01/how-we-replaced-santa-with-jesus-christ/
These are a few of the films they chose. (Links to trailers or full movie when available below)
Mother Teresa (Consecration)
The Inn of the 6th Happiness (Joy)
Torchlighter: Richard Wurmbrand, for kids
Tortured for Christ, for adults (Forgiveness)
The Inheritance (Self-Lessness)
Torchlighter: Corrie Ten Boom (Sacrifice)
On Wings of Eagles: Sequel to Chariots of Fire and the Story of Eric Liddell (Compassion)
Time Changer (Morality based on Jesus Christ)
The Least of These (Faith)
Cromwell (Never Compromise, Stand with Principle)
Pride & Prejudice (Nobility)
I haven’t been able to bribe any of my brothers to humor me in implementing this tradition (sigh) but one day! Joseph Smith celebrated his last Christmas with music and dancing “in a most cheerful and friendly manner.” I vote that this tradition needs to be revived as part of the Restoration.
I was touched by this account from Brigham Young’s manuscript history, recounting that in 1844, there is no reference to festivities as the Saints were working day and night administering temple ordinances and preparing to leave Nauvoo for the Rocky Mountains. God always comes first and there is a time and a season to every purpose under the heaven. A time to celebrate, and a time to dig in and work. On Christmas Day, Brigham met with the Twelve:
“The Twelve met in my room for counsel and prayer. After considerable conversation about the western country we united in prayer: George A. Smith was mouth.
“One hundred seven persons received their ordinances. . . . Brother Kimball and I, with some few others, remained in the Temple all night.” (History of the Church 7:552.)
This brought to my mind the power of prayer and how beautiful it would be if extended families gathered together in-person to pray, each Christmas, for one another, for the building up of the Kingdom of God, for the furtherance of the Gospel around the world and for their family to stay true in the upcoming year.
Culture is Religion Externalized—What religion do your traditions preach?
At the end of the day, our lives are not our own. They were bought at a price. We have made sacred covenants to consecrate our time, talents, and possessions to build the Kingdom of God. Our Christmas traditions and activities should reflect our identity as covenant Israelites. What traditions have you adopted to make this season a time of holiness and glory to God?