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.