Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Why Latter-Day Saints Don't Hold Special Religious Services On Christmas Eve Or Christmas Day

As Christmas 2008 approaches, perhaps you've checked your local newspaper to find out when and here Christmas worship services are being held. The Roman Catholic Church is particularly noteworthy for their Christmas religious services, particularly Midnight Mass, and I recommend that all people attend a Midnight Mass on at least one occasion to experience the liturgy and to pay homage to Jesus Christ.

But as you review the list of religious services, you'll notice that the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not listed as holding services, and perhaps you wonder why.

The reason the LDS Church does not hold special services on Christmas is because we do NOT believe that Jesus Christ was born on December 25th. Instead, we believe that Jesus Christ was born on April 6th, which also happens to be the date the LDS Church was formally organized.

But this has not canonized as official doctrine, but is merely a tradition. This is why Latter-day Saints continue to observe Christmas during the normal season in other ways. The history of the April 6th tradition is actually spelled out on the ReligiousTolerance website, and is described as follows:

Many Christians believe that Yeshua was actually born on December 25. Some suggest that he was born in the year 1 BCE. Many religious historians, liberals, etc. suggest that the birth occurred circa 4 to 7 BCE, possibly in the Spring, but more likely in the Fall.

Some Mormon leaders suggest that Jesus was born on April 6, which is the precise month and day on which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was founded in 1830, (The church celebrated its 175 anniversary recently, on 2005-APR-06.)

James E. Talmage (1862-1955), a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, was commissioned by Church president Joseph F Smith to write a biography of the life of Yeshua called: "The Life of Christ." It is still in circulation almost a century later. He wrote: "As to the season of the year in which Christ was born, there is among the learned as great a diversity of opinion as that relating to the year itself. It is claimed by many Biblical scholars that December 25th, the day celebrated in Christendom as Christmas, cannot be the correct date. We believe April 6th to be the birthday of Jesus Christ as indicated in a revelation of the present dispensation already cited in which that day is made without qualification the completion of the one thousand eight hundred and thirtieth year since the coming of the Lord in the flesh. This acceptance is admittedly based on faith in modern revelation, and in no wise is set forth as the result of chronological research or analysis. We believe that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, April 6, 1 B.C".

Elder Neil A Maxwell, who served as an Apostle in the Church, concurred with this date in his book "But for a Small Moment": "Significantly, Joseph [Smith] was finally released from Liberty Jail, with a subsequent escape en route, on April 6, 1839 -- both the Savior's and his church's birthday".

And this is also echoed by prolific LDS author Bruce R. McConkie in his book entitled "Mormon Doctrine". Since the text of this book cannot be found online, I am transcribing his entry about Christmas directly from pp 132-33 in the 31st printing, published in 1986:

"Modern day Christians celebrate December 25th as an annual church festival and as the traditional day of our Lord's mortal birth. Special gifts and greetings are common, and both Christmas itself and the whole yuletide season often take on an air of commercialism and worldliness. Apparently Christ was born on the day corresponding to April 6th (D&C 20:1), but the saints nevertheless join in the wholesome portions of the Christmas celebration. Christmas becomes to them an ideal opportunity to renew their search for the true Spirit of Christ and to center their attentions again on the true doctrine of his birth as the Son of an Immortal Father, a fact that enabled Him to work out the infinite and eternal atonement".

But while D&C 20:1 implies that Jesus may have been born on April 6th, it doesn't state so directly, so it remains merely a tradition and cannot be canonized as formal doctrine.

And the GospelCougar blog has posted statements from other LDS leaders, including the following from President Gordon B. Hinckley:

“In a few days comes the promise that spring will come again and summer will return, as it has through all the millennia that men have been upon the earth. It is no wonder that in ancient times Christmas, commemorating the birth of the Christ child, was celebrated at this solstice season. Men had no knowledge of the time of His birth, and so they came to bond the celebration of Christmas with the celebration of the return of the sun. While we now know through revelation the time of the Savior’s birth [April 6], we observe the 25th of December with the rest of the Christian world.”(“Christmas Devotional with First Presidency,” Ensign, Feb. 1998, 74–75)

To be consistent, Latter-day Saints do not hold special religious services on April 6th. In fact, Latter-day Saints only hold religious services on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. This means no special Easter services, either.

However, local LDS bishops are not barred from holding Christmas services if they so desire, and a few have held such services, as documented in some comments to this blog post on Feminist Mormon Housewives. But in general, devout Mormons have so many callings and other meetings related to these callings that they generally would rather take Christmas off and observe it in other ways.

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