A Secular Mormon Christmas!
When I was in eighth grade, I wrote an essay for school about how much I love Christmas. I focused specifically on all of the fun projects I loved to do with my family — like making cookies and gingerbread houses and decorations and home-made advent calendars.
I also used to love to sit in front of the Christmas tree — with no light other than the twinkling lights on the tree — and listen to Christmas carols, and maybe play with the electric train. All of the beautiful sights filled me with joy: everything covered in a blanket of white, patterns of frost on the windows, icicles hanging from the roof, little lights twinkling in the darkness, evergreen branches decked with ribbons and sparkling ornaments, etc.
In the grand tradition of early-American protestant Christianity, Mormons don’t have religious rites and rituals associated with the holidays of Christmas and Easter. Early Protestants recognized that a lot of the holiday services and ceremonies that take place in churches were invented largely to replace pre-Christian holiday traditions, to smooth the transition from pagan religions to Christianity. Early American Puritans famously outlawed the celebration of Christmas. But it looks like the Catholics’ “If you can’t beat ’em, co-opt ’em” approach worked better. The Puritans quite dramatically failed to stamp out Christmas. They mostly just succeeded in making church less central to this holiday.
While Mormons come from that tradition, they don’t reject Christmas at all. I think it would be more accurate to say that Mormons celebrate it with gusto, and love it for a lot of the reasons I mentioned above. Mormons don’t believe that December 25th is the birthday of Jesus (I was taught it was April 6th), but they do believe in celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th, for largely cultural reasons. So while a Mormon ward might have a Christmas pageant and/or put up some poinsettias in the chapel, a Mormon Christmas doesn’t require any religious observances.
And for that, I sincerely thank my Mormon upbringing!! When I want to revel in the sentiments and nostalgia of Christmas, I don’t miss lighting candles and listening to a choir in a church lit by stained glass windows because that was never part of my tradition. I don’t feel like my lack of belief in Jesus diminishes my Christmas at all. Why would it? In my memories, the Jesus story was one of many Christmas traditions, but not nearly the most important one.
So, now that I’m a grown-up, I can celebrate Christmas with the same joy as when I was a kid. I’m ambivalent about the holiday because of the massive focus on consumerism, but not about enjoying the nativity story as a myth. I agree with the Grinch: “Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more…”