There are many denominations of Christianity in the world, each with doctrine that differs one from another. But there is one thing they all agree on—Jesus Christ is the reason for the Christmas season!
I love the feeling in the air during the Christmas season. It’s as if everyone feels it in their own special way as they ready themselves for the coming of our Lord. People reflect that light in their countenance. I find it easier to smile at strangers because they’re smiling back at me. Why? It’s Christmastime for them too. And even if it’s not, smiling can be infectious with that many people doing it. The reason is clear—it’s Christmastime!
Last week I wrote about finding Christ amongst the clutter of the world and bringing Christmas into your home. Today I’d like to share my thoughts on Christmas outside of the home—in church groups of all denominations, with neighbors and through community efforts that strive to keep the sacredness of the of the season. My husband and I love to take part in the beauty of the Christmas season by witnessing what others around the community do to celebrate. Here are a few of the things we look for each year.
Gardens and lights
When my step-son was five years old, we used to pile in the car after dark and drive around looking at all the Christmas decorations in the neighborhood. We’d “ooh and aah” at the houses with the colored lights. I still like to drive around at night to see some of the more colorful ones. But lately, I’ve noticed more and more nativity scenes on the lawns of private homes, businesses, and municipalities. It warms my heart to see so many people have opted out of commercialism and have turned back toward the reason for the season. On the way to the nursing home where my grandmother spent her last years, we noticed a life-size nativity on the front lawn of one of the residential homes. I drove by rather slowly on that strip of roadway during the Christmas season. It was wonderful to look for it each year, like the arrival of an old friend.
There is a local garden near us with acres of land, indoors and out, seasonally decorated year-round. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, they turn the indoor conservatory into a Christmas wonderland with layers and levels of poinsettias and Christmas trees decorated from around the world. There is an old-fashioned giant music box in the lobby playing traditional Christmas carols, making it a perfect Christmas get-away retreat for an afternoon. My husband and I love to go there during Christmas. It always makes us happy.
A local reformed church in a neighboring town puts on a living nativity. They have stations that represent the events leading to Christ’s birth—silhouetted sheets that are back-lit with candle light and a narrator at each station. A guide walks a small group through the display where the story of the nativity is told. The last station is the scene at the stable, complete with Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, and the Christ child. Angels surround them while they sing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”. The members of the church volunteer their time to do this and it draws a large crowd each year. The first time I walked through, I was in tears by the end. It was so well done—simple, spiritual, a perfect witness of the Savior. We look forward to seeing it every year.
Local musical groups
We live near a university that has an outstanding music program. Each year the male and female glee clubs as well as small brass ensembles perform traditional Christmas carols on the campus churches. The acoustics in these mostly-stone buildings make for a sound richer than most, adding a heavenly quality to the purity of their voices and instruments. Often times these groups perform lesser-known carols from Europe and from the medieval era. This has a way of reminding me how people all over the world and throughout all generations have revered our Savior and have given the best of their talents to Him in dedication and worship. Sometimes the concerts are tied in with religious liturgies. This too gives homage to the traditions of the past that have led to my reverence for the Savior today. Always, they leave us feeling warm inside despite the cold—richer in spirit despite our meager circumstances.
I know it has become a tradition in some stores to greet people during Christmastime with the phrase “Happy Holidays”, but last year I tried something different. When a cashier used the phrase she was told to say, I replied, “Merry Christmas!” Each time, the cashier’s eyes brightened and she smiled broadly. Sometimes she even replied back, “Merry Christmas!” It was as if she had suddenly been filled with the Christmas spirit again and she was bursting to share it. This proved to me what I have always known: Christmas is in the air and no one can take that away!
Finding Christmas in the air around you
Jesus Christ means so much to so many people of so many varying denominations—He is the son of God, our Savior, Redeemer, brother and friend. He is worshiped by millions of people all over the world. No matter what your faith, the reverence given to Him this time of year is priceless.
“When we keep the spirit of Christmas, we keep the Spirit of Christ, for the Christmas spirit is the Christ Spirit. It will block out all the distractions around us which can diminish Christmas and swallow up its true meaning.” (“Because He Came”, Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Christmas Devotional 2011).
It’s not too late to see what your community is doing to celebrate Christmas. Community bands, orchestras and choirs give free concerts during this time of year—most of which are not restricted in their musical selections and therefore will include sacred music. Some churches host nativity displays or give firesides and devotional concerts which include scriptural readings from the Bible. I’ve seen some communities even have a Christmas walk, similar to the living nativity near our home. And of course, driving at night to see the colorfully lit houses is always fun. You can even make it a Christ-centered event by finding houses that best emulate Christ as the light of the world or by playing Christmas carols while you drive. In any case, Christmas is in the air around you. Let us do what we can to enjoy the season along with the thousands of Christians we associate with daily.
Nanette O'Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.