That Time of Year

Lisa Ray TurnerMormon, sacrament meeting 11 Comments

It’s that time of year again. The season to be jolly. The season to celebrate the birth of Christ. The season to eat sugar cookies and fudge.

The season of the ward Christmas program.

The annual ward Christmas sacrament meeting is a one and ten, sometimes at the same time. Some inspire with the stirring carols of Christmas or a new take on the Christmas story. Some are painful, like the third year in a row the bishop’s 11-year-old daughter squeaks out Silent Night on her violin. Sometimes the programs make us feel more a part of Christendom, with a poignant message about Christ. Other times we hear a mind-numbing talk on tithing, and the only mention of Christmas is when the congregation sings O Little Town of Bethlehem in a tempo that would put a four-year-old to sleep on Christmas Eve.

I’ve had experiences with all those kinds of Christmas programs. I’ve felt the joy of sitting in a warm chapel filled with bright red poinsettias, watching the snow fall outside while we sing O Come All Ye Faithful. And I’ve felt the misery of listening to dismal music and boring talks and wondering why our celebration is so humdrum.

The Christmas program that stands out most for me is when I was a teen-ager. A young woman was singing O Holy Night. She was about 20 and her life had not been easy. A couple in our ward – both social workers – had taken her in and made her one of their own. The young woman, a beautiful soprano, started to cry while she was performing. At first, she tried to sing through her tears, but after a few phrases, she just stood on the stand and wept, while the pianist valiantly continued to play. Her foster mother sat on the front row, white-knuckled and nervous as the drama unfolded. After a few uncomfortable moments, she started to sing. Her lusty soprano rang out, “Truly he taught us to love one another …” She stayed in her seat and sang. By the end of the song the two sang together. The memory stays with me to this day … and helps blunt the tithing talks and scratchy violin solos and struggling ward choirs.

How do you feel about the annual ward Christmas program? Love it or hate it? Or, do you skip it altogether and go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve? Tell your stories and thoughts, highlights and low lights. Then go join your ward choir. I guarantee they need you for the Christmas program.

Comments 11

  1. I am usually not a fan of the Christmas program for the simple reason that there isn’t a lot of feeling. In almost every ward there has been the same stale performance over and over again. The one exception was while I was missionary in West Virginia: A man and his daughter sang “Oh Holy Night” while he played Guitar. I was amazed. Unfortunately the scandal of someone playing a guitar in church was too much for many in the ward.

    I was visiting some clients who are ‘guests of Her Majesty’ at the regional jail. The earliest appointment I could get was Sunday Morning. My family dropped me off at the allotted time; however, my meetings ended at about 11am – a full 40 minutes before it was supposed to. It was cold and snowy so I sought refuge at the local ‘Christian Life Centre’ – a church that doesn’t call itself a church. It was their Christmas Gala and it was stunning.

    I confess I don’t like protestants. It is a prejudice brutally learned as a missionary in Virginia. The service was only musical and punctuated by a prayer here and there. The Children’s choir had every race and social class I could think of, the sound system was as good as a theatre and the feeling was amazing.

    The music varied between a classical musical piece by violin / guitar / flute, to a Christmas Christian Pop song with interpretive dance (no joke). It was a cool experience and really brought in the spirit of Christmas. I wonder why that hasn’t happened in any Ward I have been to. That is the only question I left with.

  2. The Christmas program is hard core in Leipzig. First of all, it’s on the 24th. Everyone comes to it before they go home and celebrate! The whole stake sings together and it’s AMAZING. We’ve practiced every Wednesday since September, and these aren’t songs that a normal choir could sing.

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  4. Here’s a million dollar question – If you were to die right now, would you qualify for the celestial kingdom? If you’re like many Mormons, you’re not sure. You try hard to be as good as possible, but you still don’t know if you’ve done enough. If the Book of Mormon is really scripture, this hope will always elude you. Alma 11:37 says God cannot save you in your sins. Are all of your sins forgiven? Moroni 10:32 says you must be perfected in Christ, which can only be done by denying yourself of “all ungodliness”. Have you done that? Do you repent on a regular basis? Is so, then it is clear that you sin on a regular basis, since only those who break the commandments need to repent. 1 Nephi 3:7 states that you are able to keep His commandments. In fact according to D&C 25:15, you are required to keep them continually! Since you haven’t done this so far, why assume you will in the future? Of course, we should all try to be holy; but if you think that sinning less will qualify you to live in God’s presence, you are mistaken (Gal 3:1-11). The assumption that good works are required for forgiveness only cheapens Christ’s atonement, making it nothing more than a partial payment. God chooses to justify us by faith. Jesus alone does the “perfecting” (Heb 10:14). God gives peace to those who trust in Him alone. If you don’t have this peace, it’s probably because at least a part of you trusts in yourself. Questions? Visit us at

  5. I think the worst was when someone considered it appropriate to celebrate Joseph Smith’s birthday the sunday before Christmas-not sure if this was church policy but it rankled even with me as a convert.Amazing how we veer between railing at the hijacking of the festival by commercialism and omitting to mention the Saviour’s birth at all,let alone celebrating the joy of the experience.I guess it’s the tension between distinguishing ourselves from other denominations and finding our own meaning and culture.Generally ambivalent about celebration I think,these mormons.

  6. We used to live in a Stake in Maryland. Years ago, they used to put on a performance of Handel’s Messiah — like with a full orchestra, professional soloists and the audience was the choir (got to sing along). I am no singer, but I loved going to this event. I think someone from a university music department made it all happened, and the Stake Center was a convenient venue to host it. It died out after a few years, but was really cool while it lasted!

  7. Six days until our Ward Christmas program. We have such exciting things as two hastily rehearsed primary songs, two vocal soloists (one of questionable talent), a relief society choir number and a congregational hymn with a narrator in-between numbers. I can’t say that I am really looking forward to it, but maybe it will get me off the stand so I can sit with my family! 🙂

  8. I am somewhat of a Grinch, I confess. First of all, my childhood Christmases were painful. Then, when I found Christ and started understanding the miracle that we celebrate at Christmas, I was bothered by the crass commercialism so deeply associated with it.

    Now I’m just happy to ignore almost every custom about Christmas (except that we have an excuse to have turkey). To make up for it, I celebrate the miracle of the Babe of Bethlehem every Sunday as I partake of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

    The low point in Christmas programs was when I was a missionary, and the two wards that used the same building had a combined Christmas Sacrament program – where both bishops and their counselors droned on and on… and on (it was supposed to be 90 minutes, it was almost 120!).

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