Christmas with the Prophet Joseph
December 1989

“Christmas with the Prophet Joseph,” Tambuli, Dec. 1989, 28

Christmas with the Prophet Joseph

As we commemorate the birth of the Savior of the world, may we also remember his messenger, Joseph Smith, and rejoice in his life and sacrifice.

Throughout the Christian world, the life of the Savior is the focus of our Christmas celebrations, but within the Church there is also the account of another life associated with Christmas—that of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith was a “Christmas” child, born 23 December 1805. His first Christmas was spent in the township of Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont. His mother Lucy, his father Joseph and their children Alvin, Hyrum, and Sophronia, had been invited the previous year to occupy a cabin there on a piece of land owned by Lucy’s father, Solomon Mack. What a joy this beautiful infant son must have been to the Smiths, and to the Mack grandparents, who lived nearby, as they commemorated that holy day.

We don’t have a complete record of all the Christmases Joseph experience in his thirty-eight years. For example, we have no account of Joseph’s Christmases in the New England area. We do know that during those years, his family moved many times, five additional children were born to Joseph and Lucy, family members suffered from typhus fever, and successive crop failures severely affected the family’s income. Accounts of Christmas seasons during the early new York years are also incomplete, although the establishment of a new home, the First Vision, and visits by Moroni would have occupied much of Joseph’s time in this period. Alvin’s death on 19 November 1823 could only have brought sadness to the entire family that December.1

During Christmas, 1826, Joseph must have been thinking of his forthcoming marriage to Emma Hale—which took place on 18 January 1827. In December 1827, Joseph and Emma moved from Manchester, New York, to Harmony, Pennsylvania, where they first lived with Isaac Hale, Emma’s father. There the Prophet was finally able to begin a serious examination of the characters on the newly acquired golden plates.

Joseph spent Christmas in his own home for the first time in December 1828, at Harmony, Pennsylvania. He probably was still mourning the loss of his first child and the disappearance of the one hundred and sixteen pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript.2 Both events had occurred earlier that year.

The following Christmas, Joseph was no doubt looking forward to the Book of Mormon being published. The great task of translation had been completed and the typesetting and printing process had begun.

In December, 1830, Joseph was probably living with the Peter Whitmer Sr. family in the township of Fayette, New York. He received three revelations contained in the present Doctrine and Covenants. In one of these (D&C 37:1–3), the Lord directed the Prophet and the Church to move to Ohio.

During December 1831 the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon were sent on a mission to proclaim the gospel “unto the world in the regions round about.” From December 4 to the following January 10, they preached to the people of Ohio (D&C 71; see also History of the Church, 1:238–41).

On 25 December 1832, Joseph explained, “Appearances of troubles among the nations became more visible this season than they had previously been since the Church began her journey out of the wilderness. … On Christmas day [1832] I received the following revelation and prophecy on war” (History of the Church, 1:301–2). Then follows one of the most far-reaching prophecies ever given by Joseph—section 87 of the Doctrine and Covenants. [D&C 87] Joseph describes the [future] outbreak of the United States’ Civil War, and warns that it would be the beginning of hostilities that would eventually spread throughout the whole earth.

On 16 December 1833, Joseph was grieved over the recent expulsion of the Saints from the Center Place, Jackson County, Missouri. In answer to his supplications, he was informed:

“I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions;

“Yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels.

“Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son” (D&C 101:2–4).

During the winter of 1834–35, Joseph organized the School of the Elders (not to be confused with the School of the Prophets already organized), and spent most of his time teaching in that school (History of the Church, 2:175–76).3

December 1835 proved to be a marvelous season for the Prophet. He wrote:

December 1. “At home. … Fine sleighing, and the snow yet [still] falling.”

December 18. After spending the day with his brother Hyrum, the Prophet expressed his great affection for him. Joseph wrote:

“And I could pray in my heart that all my brethren were like unto my beloved brother Hyrum, who possesses the mildness of a lamb, and the integrity of a Job, and in short, the meekness and humility of Christ; and I love him with that love that is stronger than death, for I never had occasion to rebuke him, nor he me, which he declared when he left me today.”

December 25. Joseph enjoyed a simple Christmas at home: “Enjoyed myself at home with my family, all day, it being Christmas, the only time I have had this privilege so satisfactorily for a long period” (History of the Church, 2:232–45).

In December 1836, the Prophet rejoiced at the incorporation of the newly created Caldwell County—a place of refuge for the Church membership in Missouri.

The Christmas season of 1837, however, was not pleasant for Joseph. The national financial panic of that year had helped cause the crash of the Saints’ own banking institution, the Kirtland Safety Society. Many members, some in high places, turned against the Church. Returning from a trip to Missouri on 10 December 1837, Joseph found that some of the opposition planned to deprive him of his presidency, and even kill him. On 12 January, 1838, Joseph and Sidney Rigdon left Kirtland for safety among the Saints in Missouri.

By December 1838 the Church in Missouri had suffered a series of severe setbacks. Falsely charged with a list of crimes, Joseph and others were put in prison. Confined to a cell in Liberty Jail, Missouri, on 16 December 1838, the Prophet wrote words of comfort to the persecuted Saints:

“Dear brethren, do not think that our hearts faint, as though some strange thing had happened unto us, for we have seen and been assured of all these things beforehand, and have an assurance of a better hope than that of our persecutors. Therefore God hath made broad our shoulders for the burden. We glory in our tribulation, because we know that God is with us, that He is our friend, and that He will save our souls. We do not care for them that can kill the body; they cannot harm our souls. We ask no favors at the hands of mobs, nor of the world, nor of the devil, nor of his emissaries the dissenters, and those who love and make, and swear falsehoods, to take away our lives. We have never dissembled, nor will we for the sake of our lives.”4

Freed from his captors in Missouri, Joseph was in Washington D. C. and New Jersey in December 1839, seeking compensation for the losses of the Saints at the hands of their Missouri persecutors, and preaching the gospel.

During December 1841, Joseph would have been involved with the construction of the Nauvoo Temple.

Perhaps of all the Prophet’s Christmases, none was more pleasant than his last—December 1843. He recorded:

“This morning, about one o’clock, I was aroused by an English sister, Lettice Rushton, widow of Richard Rushton, Senior, (who, ten years ago, lost her sight) accompanied by three of her sons, with their wives, and her two daughters, with their husbands, and several of her neighbors, singing, ‘Mortals, awake! with angels join,’ which caused a thrill of pleasure to run through my soul. All of my family and boarders [in the house] arose to hear the serenade, and I felt to thank my Heavenly Father for their visit, and blessed them in the name of the Lord” (History of the Church, 6:134).

A large gathering of family and friends dined with the Prophet and spent the evening enjoying good music and dancing “in a most cheerful and friendly manner.” And then an uninvited guest interrupted the party. Joseph described the event:

“During the festivities, a man with his hair long and falling over his shoulders, … came in and acted [in an uncouth manner]. I requested the captain of the police to put him out of doors. A scuffle ensued, and I had an opportunity to look him full in the face, when to my great surprise and joy untold, I discovered it was my long-tried, warm, but cruelly persecuted friend, Orrin Porter Rockwell, just arrived from nearly a year’s imprisonment without conviction, in Missouri” (History of the Church, 6:134–45).

Joseph would not see another Christmas season. Even as he looked forward to the new year, his enemies planned his death. He and his brother Hyrum were shot at Carthage Jail on 27 June 1844.

But the work he began did not end with his death. We are the beneficiaries of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, a work which had its earthly commencement with the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith, in the hills of Vermont on a December day in 1805.

As we commemorate the birth of the baby in Bethlehem, the Savior of the world, may we also remember his messenger, Joseph Smith, and rejoice in his life and sacrifice.


  1. Lucy Mack Smith, History of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1902, pages 321–24. Her volume, however gives an incorrect date for Alvin’s death—19 November 1824. His death actually occurred on 19 November 1823.

  2. Lucy Mack Smith, pages 410–415; see also History of the Church, 1:20–28.

  3. See also Orlen Curtis Peterson, “A History of the Schools and Educational Programs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ohio and Missouri, 1831–39,” master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972, pages 34–37.

  4. Joseph Fielding Smith, compiler, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1977, pages 123–24.

  • Larry C. Porter is an associate professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

Illustrated by Douglas M. Fryer