“I Have a Question,” Liahona, Dec. 1998, 14–15
Modern revelation tells us that the organization of the Church on 6 April 1830 was “one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh” (D&C 20:1). Yet Latter-day Saints, even with this insight, celebrate “the coming of our Lord and Savior” on 25 December. Why?
The simple explanation is that, regardless of whether 6 April is Christ’s birth date, there is no compelling reason for Church members to go against a well-established Christian holiday unless the Lord asks it of us. There are at least three good reasons we can feel comfortable observing the traditional date.
First, Joseph Smith apparently approved of the growing religious significance of the 25 December holiday. Although school records indicate that Latter-day Saint children living in Nauvoo in the early 1840s went to school on 25 December, Christmas was beginning to take on the aspect of a religious celebration.
For example, on 25 December 1843, the Prophet recorded that he was 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.”1 That evening, the Prophet enjoyed other festivities as well.
Second, Latter-day Saints are not 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 to be a dedicated disciple of Christ. In view of that emphasis, it is not surprising that as Christmas became more of a religious holiday in the late 1800s, Church leaders felt no need to counter it by promoting the rival date of 6 April.
Third, it is not uncommon for historical events to be celebrated on a day other than when they actually occurred. For example, few citizens of the United States care that the signing of their Declaration of Independence is celebrated on 4 July instead of on 2 July, the actual date of the signing. The governing principle is one of intent. The spirit of the celebration is what matters most, not necessarily having the celebration on the precise date.
A precedent is found in D&C 27:2. The Lord said 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 supported 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.”2
What really matters is that we celebrate the birth of the Savior and that our devotion to him is clear. If revelation were to tell us that intent must be matched with the right date, we would gladly adapt. Until that occurs, however, it appears that celebrating on the day of the traditional Christian Christmas is acceptable to the Lord.