One of the crazier and more transparently false allegations made against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by a relatively small handful of its harshest critics — curiously, I encounter this claim much more among disaffected secularizing ex-Mormons than among, say, Evangelical Protestant anti-Mormons — asserts that Latter-day Saint celebrations of the birth of Joseph Smith (on 23 December 1805) rival or even overshadow our observance of the birthday of Jesus Christ.
They’ve even coined a somewhat clever and characteristically derisive name for this purported Mormon practice: ”Smithmas.”
I alluded to this accusation in a Deseret News column a couple of years ago. I said then, and I repeat now, that any notion of “Smithmas” is utterly foreign to my experience of life as a communicant and believing Latter-day Saint. I’ve lived, served, worshiped, socialized, and celebrated Christmas with Mormons on four continents, and I grew up in California, and I currently live in an overwhelmingly Mormon neighborhood in Utah and teach at the Church’s flagship university, and I’ve never, ever, seen anything remotely resembling what these critics allege.
We sing Christmas carols, put up nativity scenes, deliver and listen to Christmas sermons, decorate our homes with Christmas lights, erect Christmas trees, put on ambitious Christmas choral concerts, attend and organize Christmas parties, enjoy Christmas-related firesides, exchange Christmas gifts, read the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke, participate in sing-alongs of Händel’s Messiah, prepare and present Christmas programs in our sacrament meetings, bake Christmas pies and pastries, and participate in special ward Christmas choirs, and, in some years, when we remember to do so, we appreciatively mention Joseph Smith once or twice.
There is nothing in Mormonism or Mormon practice even approximately resembling “Smithmas.” The claim is a slanderous falsehood. It is a lie.
So far from the truth is it that my wife and I, ten or so years back, decided to host a small birthday party for Joseph Smith at our home every 23 December. We thought it sad that, amidst all the busyness and commercialism of Christmas, his signal contribution to our lives and faith usually went altogether unmentioned. We may have missed a year or two since then — though I’m not sure of that — and we’ll be out of state this year, but, for the most part, we’ve continued this newly-invented custom annually. Our birthday party typically involves a potluck dinner, something about Joseph Smith, and then . . . Christmas carols and Christmas hymns. (We include among those we’ve usually invited some good and exceptionally musical friends — e.g., a composer with a doctorate in musicology, a former professional opera singer, a music teacher and member of the Tabernacle Choir with a master’s degree in choral conducting, and several members of recorded choral groups — so it’s a real treat for us.)
If anybody out there can point to specific examples of “Smithmas” in his or her experience, I would appreciate hearing about them. While somebody may have gone overboard somewhere at some time, I haven’t heard of any serious examples, and I don’t believe that there’s enough out there, if indeed there’s anything substantial at all, to constitute a pattern or to refute my flat denial of the charge. If there were, surely I would have heard of it during my residences and extended travels among the Saints in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. I’ve never actually lived in South America, and have traveled less there than on other continents, so perhaps it’s a hotbed of “Smithmas.” But I’ve visited Peru, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina (and, for that matter, Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica), and, somehow, I doubt it.