“Why do Latter-day Saints celebrate Christmas on December 25 instead of on April 6?” Ensign, Dec. 1992, 28
Roger A. Hendrix, a member of the Palos Verdes East Ward, Palos Verdes California Stake, is serving as president of the Chile Santiago South Mission. The simple answer to the question is that, regardless of whether or not April 6 is Christ’s birthdate, there is no compelling reason for Church members to go against a well-established Christian holiday unless the Lord requires it of us. And there are at least three good reasons why we can feel comfortable observing the traditional date.
First, Joseph Smith apparently approved of the growing religious significance of the December 25 holiday. Despite Puritan attempts to ban Christmas celebrations in early New England, Christmas in Joseph Smith’s day continued to evolve from a time of “folksy conviviality”1 into a religious event. Although Nauvoo school records indicate that Latter-day Saint children there in the early 1840s went to school on December 25, by midcentury Christmas in America and in Europe had taken on a deeper meaning.
For example, on 25 December 1843, the Prophet recorded that he had been awakened about 1:00 A.M. by carolers. The serenade of “heavenly music” caused him “a thrill of pleasure,” and he thanked God for the visit and “blessed them in the name of the Lord.”2 That evening, the Prophet enjoyed other festivities as well. His favorable response to Christmas celebrations suggests that he saw nothing objectionable about the holiday taking on religious significance.
Second, Latter-day Saints have not been inclined to take extreme positions on matters not essential to the message of the Restoration. Of great importance is one’s testimony of the Savior’s divine birth and mission and one’s decision toward a dedicated discipleship. In view of that emphasis, it is not surprising that as Christmas became more of a religious holiday after the Civil War, Church leaders felt no need to counter it by promoting the rival date of April 6.
Third, it is not uncommon for historical events to be celebrated on a day other than when they occurred. For example, few people care that the signing of the Declaration of Independence is celebrated in the United States on July 4 instead of on July 2, the actual date of the signing.
The governing principle in such situations is one of intent. The thought is what counts most, not necessarily the precise date or the traditional trappings surrounding it. A precedent is found in D&C 27:2, where the Lord says that it does not matter what we use for sacramental emblems—as long as we “do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering … my body … and my blood.” It is not unreasonable to suppose that the Lord would make a similar allowance in celebrating his birth.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie amplified that idea: “Apparently Christ was born on the day corresponding to April 6 (D&C 20:1), but the saints nevertheless join in the wholesome portions of the Christmas celebration. Christmas becomes to them an ideal opportunity to renew their search for the true spirit of Christ and to center their attentions again on the true doctrine of his birth as the Son of an Immortal Father.”3
What really matters, then, is that we celebrate the birth of the Savior and that our devotion is clear. If revelation were to tell us that intent must be matched with the right date, we would gladly do it. Until that occurs, however, it appears that celebrating the traditional Christian Christmas is acceptable to the Lord.