Just before Thanksgiving I visited an old high school chum's book club. She called it a favor; I called it a treat. There isn't much I'd rather do than chat with people who are passionate about books and who graciously take the time to read one of mine.
The friend and her sweet family spent several weeks organizing and preparing for my visit. After a lengthy and lively discussion about their book-of-the-month, "Christmas Jars," we opened up the discussion to a broader range of topics.
The questions were fairly typical: How many hours do I write each day? Do I outline first? How does my family cope with me being gone so often?
Then came a question so far out in left field it would need to ride the parking lot shuttle just to see the stadium.
A smiling woman, sitting on a couch near me, asked boldly, "You've written a book about Christmas, but I know from your website that you're a Mormon. How did you reconcile your religious beliefs, the fact that you don't celebrate Christmas, with writing a book called 'Christmas Jars'?"
You've heard the term 'pregnant pause'? This one was having quintuplets.
I told her I didn't quite understand the question and asked her to repeat it. She did, nearly verbatim, then added that she'd once dated a member of the church and that he'd told her Mormons don't really celebrate the holiday.
I nibbled a sugar cookie, took a sip of water and finally said, "I'll be honest, I've been a member of the church my entire life, and this is the first time I've ever heard someone suggest that we don't celebrate Christmas. But I'm certainly glad to address it."
Yes, Mormons celebrate Christmas, I explained, and that like other Christians hopefully our celebrations revolve around the birth of Christ. In fact, everything we believe points to him. Do many of us try to downplay the commercial aspect of the holiday in order to focus on its more sacred significance? Of course we do, but that's also true of Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc. I added that we put up Christmas trees, string lights, sing carols and bake brownies by the bushel.
She apologized, which I assured her was completely unnecessary, and she told me how grateful she was for the clarification. By the end of the night the awkward moment had long passed, and I told the ladies how much I'd enjoyed the discussion.
I pondered that exchange on my long drive home. What other myths or odd stereotypes might she believe? Certainly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often misunderstood and misrepresented in the media. But with more than 14 million members around the world, there are plenty of us to clarify the misperceptions. If we don't, who will?
If given a chance to meet her again, I might tackle the most common myth and make absolutely sure she knows Mormons do not practice polygamy. The next time she or anyone else hears the media associating Mormons with the illegal practice, she can rest assured that the practitioners are not members of the church.
What we do believe is that the family is the central unit in society. Schools can play a small role, government too, and certainly our neighbors can be valuable, but nothing is more vital than the family. Most importantly, we believe that families can be together forever.
If the woman and I cross paths again, I might ask what she knows about the Book of Mormon. Perhaps she believes the myth that it is our Mormon Bible. If so, I'd make it clear that no book replaces the importance of the teachings of the Bible and that I have a copy of the King James Version on my nightstand and in my church bag.
What we do believe is that the Book of Mormon is another important testament of Jesus Christ. It is an account of ancient civilizations in the Americas who, like their brothers and sisters in the Middle East, were blessed with prophets and prophecies of the Savior's birth and ministry. Later they were visited by the resurrected Lord. I also would have added, likely with a tear in my eye, that I know it to be the word of God. I know that it testifies, like the Bible, of the divinity of Jesus Christ and that its teachings provide a roadmap to return to live with him.
If I were fortunate enough to see her again, I would ask what she knows about modern-day prophets. I would ensure she knows that while we believe in them, we do not worship them. Maybe she believes the myth that Joseph Smith is the founder of our religion. If so, I would testify that our religion isn't his. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we worship him alone. Also, Joseph Smith didn't found the church; he restored it in 1830 with apostles, prophets and priesthood authority. What a blessing that today it resembles the church as led by the Savior when he walked the earth.
Above all else, if this woman and I were ever in the same room again, I would want her to know how much our Father in Heaven loves every single one of us, no matter our religion. Whether prisoner of myths or not, we are all divine sons and daughters. I hope she knows how much he wants all of us to return home and live with him again.
May all Christians focus their holiday celebrations on the birth of our Savior, the beginning of the greatest life ever lived and the greatest story ever told.
Do Mormons celebrate Christmas? Yes, because we celebrate him.