Corpus Christi

I don’t think it’s insignificant that Mormons do not have religious holidays, even Christmas and Easter are drawn from western Christian traditions; and thus are usually celebrated by Mormons when the rest of Christendom celebrates them according to the region of the world they are in at the time of those holidays. For instance, Easter in Russia is celebrated by Mormons according to the Orthodox calendar, while Easter in Italy is celebrated by Mormons on the date accorded by Catholic tradition. Christmas in Russia slides by January 7th with little fanfare, culturally crushed by seventy years of Soviet thought. As I’ve mentioned before, while I don’t dislike Christmas, I don’t love it. What holidays offer me is what it means to be Christian as I flesh out day-to-day actions and interactions from all the celebratory traditions that can be overwhelming and at the same time feel meaningless.

In The Exponent II Winter 2011 Issue; Erica Eastley explores some of the practices of new Mormons with non-Christian backgrounds. She notes, “[The] culture of the LDS Church is heav­ily influenced by Protestant culture and practice. This isn’t surprising or nec­essarily a bad thing, but it does affect how the Church and its doctrines are received by people whose background isn’t Protestant.”

New members of the Church with or without Christian backgrounds may be pressured to act Mormon or/and  act Christian  in such ways as to display pictures of Jesus (whereas displaying images of deity may be viewed traditionally as sacrilegious within their own culture), display a holiday crèche, pray with hands folded in certain positions, celebrate certain holidays and in prescribed ways, or inhibit the celebration of other holidays. Eastley writes:

 It can be difficult for mem­bers from those cultures to navigate LDS cultural expectations when those expectations are so different from their own. The LDS Church is often described as an American-centered church, but I’d like to suggest that, more than Americentric, its roots are firmly planted in Christian, and most especially, Protestant belief and prac­tice. As a result, I think there might be more pressure to act “Christian” than to act “American”. Instead of insisting that we are Christian, with all the cultural, linguis­tic, and historical baggage that term carries worldwide, we should focus on following Christ and recognize that there are many ways to do that beyond traditional Christianity. Helping new members find familiar ways to follow Christ has to be more effective than trying to fit everyone into a prescribed mold that might be uncomfortable. Instead of insisting that we are Christian, with all the cultural, linguis­tic, and historical baggage that term carries worldwide, we should focus on following Christ and recognize that there are many ways to do that beyond traditional Christianity. Helping new members find familiar ways to follow Christ has to be more effective than trying to fit everyone into a prescribed mold that might be uncomfortable…

There are also many cultural expec­tations surrounding religious holidays. One Easter I ate with some Central Asian Mormons when Easter was cel­ebrated on the same day by all Chris­tians. One sister asked if Mormons cel­ebrate Easter; she had never celebrated Easter herself because Easter, like Christmas, is a Russian Orthodox holi­day in Central Asia. If those holidays are celebrated by LDS Central Asians, and they often aren’t, it might be con­venient for them to be observed on the Orthodox dates. But there is sometimes pressure from American Mormons to encourage Central Asian Mormons to Central Asian Mormons to celebrate those holidays on the tradi­tional Protestant/Catholic dates with American traditions.

So why Christmas? Why Easter? Christmas doesn’t necessarily cause me to think more about Jesus, or act more Christ like. Holidays, even religious or Christ centered ones, are not necessary in my worship practices. I don’t find it necessary to celebrate Christmas or Easter, anymore than I find it necessary to celebrate New Year’s. The New Year comes in whether I celebrate it or not. Christ was born, lived, died for my sins, and was resurrected whether I celebrate it or not. These celebrations aren’t bad, and can be good for some people. Christian holidays can bring meaning to people’s lives and enhance feelings of reverence toward deity while enhancing feelings of love from deity. But sometimes I think we get so caught up in the hoopla and celebrations that we forget it doesn’t matter. We come up with more ways to celebrate, and to make memories. We become so busy acting Christian; we forget to be Christian.

As Eastley writes, “Saying you are Muslim in Central Asia might not mean you strictly subscribe to Islamic doctrines or go to the mosque to pray often, but simply that you are a good Kazakh or follow the Kyrgyz way.” Likewise, saying you are Christian might not mean you strictly play Handel’s Messiah in December, maintain a collection of Christmas crèches or hang stockings on a hearth. It may not mean you color Easter eggs or hide Easter baskets in the spring. It may not mean you celebrate Christmas or Easter at all, but instead celebrate solstices and seasons.  Being Christian means simply following the Christian way.

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Comments

  1. Ah, why worship on Thursday in Saudia?

  2. Actually, we worship on Fridays in Saudi. :-)

  3. What about the fact that we absolutely do not follow a liturgical calendar? Only in Mormondom can you show up on the Sunday before Christmas to hear talks about the Restoration with not a mention of Christmas except for the ward activity announcement and the hymns (my ward last week). Easter is worse with a complete ignoring of Holy Week.

    It is actually the utter ignoring of the religious aspects of the holidays with an overwhelming celebration of the more secular parts that I find the most disturbing.

  4. Is anyone’s ward cancelling meetings this week? Our ward is joining with the other ward in the building for a single hour of sacrament and Christmas music — we’re going beyond Protestant almost to Puritan (or Central Asian convert, perhaps). That can be disappointing if your *tastes* are Catholic, but there’s no reason for Mormons to be disturbed on a theological level.

  5. Yes! We have a 60 minute sacrament meeting this week. We are all so excited! haha!

  6. I meant, a 60 minute sacrament meeting and no other meetings at all. We were told to leave the building immediately so the other wards could come right in and have their 60 minute meetings.

  7. Nicole I,
    I’m a fan of liturgy myself, and like Holy Week etc. But I think there need to be allowances with our fellow worshipers who come the Mormonism with very different backgrounds. It’s not the same for them.

    Our ward has a 1 hour, music heavy meeting.

  8. Meems, I’ll be. Years ago when my mom and dad were there and I visited it was Thursdays. Wonder why they changed.

  9. Is anyone’s ward cancelling meetings this week? Our ward is joining with the other ward in the building for a single hour of sacrament and Christmas music

    We are doing so as well.

    I have to say that that sort of thing is my general experience.

  10. Ardis, the First Presidency sent out a letter stating how the meeting should be conducted over the holidays. 1 hour sacrament meeting on Christmas day and full 3 hours on New Years Day.

    Like I commented elsewhere, I think you make an important point about the costs of imposing these traditions. With that said it seems vital that Mormons, like Christians, have yearly rituals to recall that God’s covenant-making are embedded in time. What those rituals are should be open to localised creativity but it seems appropriate to encourage people to have these rituals.

  11. I agree that these yearly rituals are important and there should be flexibility in what people celebrate. I’m inclined to think that means a future branch in Central Asia could celebrate what Western Mormons see as Muslim religious holidays like Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, maybe even instead of, or at least in addition to, Easter and Christmas.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    By the way, Happy Smithmas, everybody!

  13. mmiles–thanks for the post. This is why I find this blog, which I’ve only discovered this year, so valuable. It helps me see beyond my experience. Thank you for the insight.

  14. Hmmm…our ward is having a 1 hour Christmas service AND a 1 hour New Year’s Dad service. I wonder why they decided to do that, since (according to #10) the first presidency said we are supposed to have 3 hours on New Year’s Day. We’ve never done that in the past when Christmas and New Year’s fell on Sunday. A lot of our ward are graduate students who will still be gone on New Year’s Day, so maybe that’s the answer.

  15. Julie M. Smith says:

    “I wonder why they decided to do that”

    Perhaps because it is very, very hard to start new Primary and other classes when 1/2 the ward is out of town and the other 1/2 is half-asleep and still in holiday mode.

  16. In Idaho, three wards in a building is universal. Sacrament meeting can NEVER go overtime. Doing only one meeting for us means we can take the time needed for good music and thoughts and fellowship comfortably afterward. Sounds inspired to me.

  17. TJohn, it was a letter sent to Bishops and Stake Presidents regarding this Christmas specifically. I would not worry too much, 1 hour for both seems quite sensible.

  18. I didn’t mean to sound like I was worried, or unhappy, or questioning what the bishop was doing. I was quite delighted, as is the rest of the ward, to have a 1 hour meeting two weeks in a row. I agree with boiseleon–in our building there are also 3 wards, so having only sacrament meeting will allow time for good music and thoughts, and visiting afterward instead of rushing off to give or listen to lessons. I had just assumed that that was what all wards were doing, so I was interested to hear that that wasn’t the case.

  19. #14 – I’ve never heard of a New Year’s Dad service. What’s on the program that day?

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