One interesting point from the Christmas Devotional a couple of weeks back which I’ve thought about a few times since then was that both Elder Faust and President Hinckley made particular note of the fact that Joseph Smith was born during the Christmas season–on December 23, 1805, to be exact. The way they drew attention to the birthday of Smith–who was, completely aside from the language in Doctrine & Covenants section 135, indisputedly the most important individual in the whole history of the church–reminded me of something an old friend of mine from Texas once asked me: why don’t Mormons celebrate December 23rd? This really got me thinking, since I take holidays quite seriously. Back in November Kaimi asked if there was, or ought to be, something formally “Mormon” about the way we celebrate Thanksgiving; I didn’t think much of that idea. In a few days I’ll probably post something on how Mormons celebrate (or don’t celebrate) Christmas, and how I think they should. But aside from all that–the idea of a purely Mormon holiday, one that would give us occasion to celebrate as well as teach about Smith’s life and mission, to commemorate as well as deepen our bond to his great works, in ways both personal and “public” (i.e., through our wards, stakes and perhaps even communities), strikes me as something definitely worth pursuing.
But how? Mormons basically only have one holiday which is their own: Pioneer Day, July 24th. It’s no surprise that this holiday has taken root in our teaching materials, lesson plans, stake calendars and cultural expectations; the church and the state of Utah both got behind it in a big way long ago, so that by the time the “Mormon diaspora” really began during the administration of David O. McKay, a great many Mormons had internalized it enough to want to keep it alive wherever they were. (I’m not sure if there are many communities outside of Utah or Southern Idaho where Mormons organize for parades and other public events; we did in Spokane, WA, when I was young, taking over the local fairgrounds for a few hours in the morning for races, a parade, a big pancake breakfast, water balloon fights, etc. But even without such outward forms, wards the world over still have their primary programs and youth activities.) Getting a new holiday going won’t be easy at this point (though obviously, frequent emphasis on the date by the church leadership would be a great help). What is needed are some basic rituals or activites to help us honor the day in the proper spirit (that is, one that contributes to rather than distracts from the already underway Christmas season) that can serve as a seed for other, further developments.
Unfortunately, the one which seems to me most appropriate to me is also no longer particularly feasible. Smith plays! Think about it: gathering at the ward building or stake center on a winter’s evening, for a presentation of some story of Smith’s life. It could be something to do with Christmas (though the holiday hadn’t really taken its current Victorian form at the time of Joseph Smith’s life…but then, who said it needed to be historically accurate?). It could be a story of Joseph and Emma. Maybe something dramatic about Zion’s March. And, of course, stories from Nauvoo, with the audience booing and hissing whenever Thomas B. Marsh appeared (twirling his mustache and laughing evilly, no doubt!). Like the Passion plays of old, which were timed to the religious calendar and climaxed at Easter, we could have a whole series of devotional and entertaining plays, climaxing with the martyrdom. There would be something deeply right, I think, with honoring December 23rd in this way, especially given the deep roots with the theater has in Mormon history.
The problem, of course, is that this idea is about 25 years too late. For numerous reasons, our collective involvement as Mormons in such forms of entertainment–particularly through roadshows, which I am just old enough to remember my mother being heavily involved in–has been decaying for decades, so much so that the church hasn’t even built stages in its buildings in recent years. (Speaking of which please read “Basketball Doctrines,” one of the best things Orson Scott Card has ever written: a touching lament for our disappearing youth activities, a proposal for renewal, and a vicious, dead-on polemic against the abomination which is “church ball,” all rolled into one.) But perhaps it could at least happen in families, or as part of primary programs. (I know my girls would adore the idea of dressing up and acting out stories from Smith’s day.) And that might be a good start.
Any other ideas? What should we be doing on December 23rd?