Celebrating Smithmas: A Report from Central Florida

 

The Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.
(b. 23 December 1805)

 

I wrote skeptically a few weeks ago about claims by certain ex-Mormons that Latter-day Saint celebrations of “Smithmas” — Joseph Smith’s birthday, on 23 December — overshadow if indeed they don’t altogether dwarf Latter-day Saint observance of Christmas.

 

Well, today is 23 December.  Joseph Smith’s birthday.

 

I attended sacrament meeting this morning in a ward located in the region of greater Orlando, Florida.  I decided to take notes on it in order to draw up an account of the degree to which Joseph Smith’s birthday supplanted references to the nativity of Jesus Christ.

 

It wasn’t even close.

 

I don’t believe that I heard the name of Joseph Smith mentioned during the entire service.  Not a single time.

 

When we entered the chapel, instrumental Christmas music — of the kind that ordinary Christians of even the most nominal sort would instantly recognize — was being played, with bells, organ, and piano.

 

Then the congregation sang “O Come, All Ye Faithful”:

 

Oh, come, all ye faithful,

Joyful and triumphant!

Oh, come ye, oh, come ye to Bethlehem;

Come and behold him,

Born the king of angels:

Oh, come, let us adore him,

Oh, come, let us adore him,

Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

 

Sing, choirs of angels,

Sing in exultation,

Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!

Glory to God,

Glory in the highest:

Oh, come, let us adore him,

Oh, come, let us adore him,

Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

 

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,

Born this happy morning;

Jesus, to thee be glory given!

Word of the Father,

Now in flesh appearing!

Oh, come, let us adore him,

Oh, come, let us adore him,

Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

 

An invocation, pronounced (as all Latter-day Saint prayers are) in the name of Jesus Christ, formally opened the meeting.

 

Then the congregation sang “While of these emblems we partake,” in order to prepare for the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, the Mormon equivalent of communion:

 

While of these emblems we partake

In Jesus’ name and for his sake,

Let us remember and be sure

Our hearts and hands are clean and pure.

 

For us the blood of Christ was shed;

For us on Calvary’s cross he bled,

And thus dispelled the awful gloom

That else were this creation’s doom.

 

The law was broken; Jesus died

That justice might be satisfied,

That man might not remain a slave

Of death, of hell, or of the grave,

 

But rise triumphant from the tomb,

And in eternal splendor bloom,

Freed from the pow’r of death and pain,

With Christ, the Lord, to rule and reign.

 

The priests first blessed the bread, with this prescribed prayer that is offered, in dozens of languages, around the world every week:

 

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

 

After the bread was distributed to the congregation, they then blessed the water with another prescribed prayer that, like the one on the bread, is delivered every week in every Latter-day Saint sacrament service worldwide:

 

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this water to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

 

Following the administration of the sacrament, a variety of Christmas musical numbers were presented, including “O Holy Night,” “Away in a Manger,” and (in Portuguese) “Silent Night,” by a ward choir, a family group, a choir of young children, and a special group of young women.

 

Punctuating the musical numbers were a pair of talks on the theme of “What Christmas means to me,” delivered by an older married couple from the congregation.

 

Finally, the ward choir and the congregation joined together to sing “Angels We Have Heard on High”:

 

Angels we have heard on high

Sweetly singing o’er the plains,

And the mountains in reply

Echoing their joyous strains.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

 

Shepherds, why this jubilee?

Why your joyous strains prolong?

What the gladsome tidings be

Which inspire your heavenly song?

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

 

Come to Bethlehem and see

Christ Whose birth the angels sing;

Come, adore on bended knee,

Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

 

A benediction, pronounced (as all Latter-day Saint prayers are) in the name of Jesus Christ, closed the meeting.

 

A couple of days ago, I saw a prediction on an militantly apostate message board that Mormons would gather in their chapels on Joseph Smith’s birthday to celebrate the birth of the one they really worship.

 

The prediction was accurate.  We did meet on Joseph Smith’s birthday.  It happens, this year, to have fallen on a Sunday, and we always meet on Sunday.  And we did indeed celebrate the birth of the one we really worship.

 

But “Smithmas” is a lie.  Nothing better can be said for it.  Those who push the idea, in my experience, are people who know better.  There is no small savor of depravity in so obviously false and dishonest an accusation.

 

Perhaps, someone wanting to cut the accusers some slack might suggest, the ward I attended was an outlier.  Maybe Smithmas is more of a Utah thing.

 

Nope.  Smithmas is a lie.  I’ve been a Latter-day Saint for the entirety of my approximately four hundred and seventy-two years on earth, roughly half of them in Utah now, and I have never, ever, attended anything that could fairly be called a “Smithmas” service.  (Incidentally, to our surprise, when we sat down in the chapel we found that a member of our Utah stake presidency was seated, with his wife and all of his kids and their spouses, in the row immediately ahead of us.  I watched carefully for any indication of shock on his part or theirs at the distinct absence of Smith-worship in the meeting, but I couldn’t detect a trace.)

 

I will say this, though:  Today was Joseph Smith’s birthday, and I’m grateful for his faithfulness and his service.  He was a good man.  More than that, he was a prophet of God and an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Do I worship him?  No.  Of course not.  But I respect him, I believe his claims, and I venerate his memory.

 

If that bothers his critics (and mine), so be it.

 

Posted from Kendall (Miami), Florida.

 

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  • Craig

    Excellent post and so true, both about worshiping Jesus Christ and venerating one of His prophets, Joseph Smith.

  • Stephen Smoot

    Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke at my ward today (he is from the area, and so comes and visits our ward now and then, including every Christmas).

    He spoke for an hour on a Christmas theme. Because it is December 23rd, he also mentioned his gratitude for Joseph Smith for restoring the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He spoke about the mission of Joseph Smith as an apostle and prophet of Christ, and that we know Christ because of the work of Joseph Smith. In other words, any “Smithmas” stuff was specifically in the context of how because of the life and mission of Joseph Smith we know Christ. In other words, Joseph points us away from himself and to Jesus.

    You’re right, Bro. Peterson. This “Smithmas” nonsense is anti-Mormon schlock that is designed to mock us. But it is based on a fabrication, and only anti-Mormon loons propagate it.

  • Pingback: Merry Smithmas? Daniel Peterson sets the record straight | Mormon Apologia

  • Elizabeth Watkins

    I attended church at my home ward in Utah Valley, the heart of Mormondom, and listened very closely for any mention on Joseph Smith on this, the 207th anniversary of his birth. There was none during the entire three hours. The nearest we came was a passing reference to his brother Hyrum and a picture of the Sacred Grove that the teacher forgot to use in her lesson. Not much Joseph-worship going on here, which is probably exactly how Joseph likes it.

    Contrast with that the Christmas-centered program in sacrament meeting that reviewed the life of Jesus Christ from manger to atonement to empty tomb; the Sunday school lesson from the book of Ether on seeking Jesus of whom the prophets have testified; and the lesson from the April general conference counseling us to build our lives upon Jesus Christ, the sure foundation. I estimate that some name or title of the Savior was used about every thirty seconds, on average, in the meetings I attended. That’s roughly 360 references to Jesus Christ versus 0 references to Joseph Smith.

    So much for Smithmas in Utah.

  • Jussi Kemppainen

    Joseph’s testimony of the Savior is the proof of his prophetic mission. Joseph’s “fruits” are in our silent love of him as the Lord’s called prophet and apostle AND our voicing of our testimony of Jesus the Christ our SAVIOR to the world., especially as we celebrate Christ, and only Him, on Christmas.
    (- even in countries where it is not allowed)
    Joyful Christmas!

  • Lucious Larry

    Happy Holidays Dan, my colleagues and I wish you and your family the best for the New Year. As in the words of Zach Galifianakis in the movie Due Date, “When a [year] starts like this it’s all uphill from here.”

    -Οι Στρατιές Του Αβαδδών

  • Milissa Boyer Kafes

    Wow…I have never heard of Smithmas before! In fact, I don’t recall even a single reference to Joseph Smith at all yesterday. We don’t celebrate Smithmas here in New York, either.

  • Mike

    Gasp! There was not a single mention of Joseph Smith during our Sunday service. And this was at a congregation in the Kirtland, Ohio area. This was the very place Joseph called home and brought forth the structure for the Mormon faith. Of all the places, one would think we would be the ones to celebrate Smithmas. Alas, our sacrament meeting had eight songs, each dealing directly with the birth, life, and mission of the Savior. We had an individual speak of six different witnesses to the Savior’s birth and divinity, but no mention of Joseph (although he surely could have been mentioned as a great witness of the Savior’s divinity). More to the point, I recall testing Dan’s little experiment of counting the references to Christ in our meetings, about a year ago, and stopping after I reached 26 references in sacrament meeting alone. At that point, I just decided to enjoy the meeting.

  • Rebekah

    Well, no Smithmas celebrating in my ward either. I was singing with the Relief Society sisters singing a song called Mary’s Lullaby, singing about Mary singing about the Christ child and his sacrifice in the future.

    I think the only mention of Joseph’s Smith’s Birthday came during a talk a few weeks ago from my Home Teacher who wanted to say just briefly in passing that Joseph Smith’s birthday was this month and that was that.

  • Joshua Israel Gemmell

    I came across your website while searching to find any news about Joseph Smith’s having been resurrected.

    Know that back in July 2010 I asked that this prayer I had written be said for me inside the Provo Temple:

    Lord forgive me of my unworthiness to come before thee, but I only ask for great things that are worthy of thy majesty and power, for thou art a great God among the gods, and if it were not so, I would not ask thee for these things. 1. I desire to be thy instrument to declare thy generations, that the mysteries of thy generations maybe known upon this earth. 2. I desire that you grant old King David a pardon, I do this for I know how much you love Jerusalem, and while old King David has fallen, he was never conqueror, for he awaits thy deliverance in hell. I ask this for it is my desire to do something for thee my Lord, and because old King David is my direct descendant, and it is thy will that we love our forefathers. 3. I ask that thou will resurrect Brother Joseph Smith, Jr. on December 23, 2012, that the Maya Calendar may end with the resurrection of Brother Smith, for he did much for the Mayan people. And as a witness that I, Joshua Israel Gemmell am who I say I am, and that my nephew David Joseph is whom the LDS Church said he is, I ask that you grant Brother Joseph P. wealth, for he was a friend to thee in your time of need. For thou has said, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren [of my family,] ye have done it unto me. Brother Joseph P. has helped me make a righteous request inside thy temple, he has been a help to thy brethren in their time of need, wherefore let thy words be fulfilled in him, that thou shalt reward those whom were a friend unto God. I asked this dear Lord, if I am whom I say that I am, then reward Brother Joseph P. with wealth. Amen. I say these things in the name of the Lord Our Righteousness, Jesus Christ. Amen.

    Therefore, I have had great expectations that Brother Joseph Smith would be resurrected yesterday on the December 23, 2012, which would have been three days after the Maya Calendar ended on 21st of December 2012.

    However, after Brother Joseph P. said the prayer for me inside the temple, a heard about a much longer Maya Calendar that has been unearthed which continues beyond 2012, and it appears that it was only an opinion of some misguide soul that time would end on December 21, 2012. As for me I always knew that the earth was not going to end, for there were many prophecies that remain unfulfilled, but I thought it would be nice if time came to an end with the resurrection of Joseph Smith Jr.

    Now, I have rechecked online, and there are no news report that the grave of Joseph Smith has been opened by God, but then I don’t think God needs to open a grave to resurrect someone, God can just as easily have the remains of Joseph Smith’s pass right through his gravestone.

    Nice post you wrote about Joseph Smith not being worshipped by the LDS Church, however you really need to say something about the statue Moroni not being worshipped by Mormons, because while Mormons do not worship the cross, they do worship Moroni by placing a statue of him on top of temples. The Mormons were the first in the kingdom of God to use a statue on top of temples. Neither Moses temple, nor Solomon first temple, nor Joseph Smith first temple had statutes, and all of these temple were accepted by God. Only the Navuoo Temple was destroyed by fire, by tornado, and then sold at a complete lost and never fully utilized by the Mormons, but then it was the first temple design to make use of a graven images of the sun, moon, and stars which were all forbidden by God in the scriptures to be used in the design of a temple. Obviously when God says, “Thou Shalt have no graven images.” – That includes things in heaven, like the sun, moon, stars, and even the statue Moroni. <

    • Wendell

      You are as mixed up about the worship of Moroni as the Anti’s are about the worship of Smith. I hope you get some sleep.

    • Craig

      And why Joshua would anyone listen to nor care what you have written or even think given the fact that you are ignorant enough to not know the difference between descendant and ancestor?

  • Rick Anderson

    I’m the Primary chorister in my ward, and yesterday the Sharing Time lesson was about Joseph Smith, in honor of his birthday. The Sharing Time leader talked about the “gifts” that were brought to the world through Joseph Smith–the restored gospel, the Book of Mormon, the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, etc. But the only time he was mentioned in sacrament meeting was during my talk, which was about the atonement and the condescension of Christ, and mentioned Joseph Smith in passing. I’ve been a member of the Church for my entire life, and yesterday was the first time in 47 years that I remember Joseph Smith’s birthday being mentioned in church.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I know that Hanukkah has become more prominent as a Jewish holiday because it comes in December. I know that fake holidays like Kwanzaa (which coopts the Menorah in order to promote socialism) and Festivus (Seinfeld) have been created to piggyback on the Christmas season. Apparently taking a cue from the creators of South Park, who have made a killing from a wild fictionalized version of Mormonism, some other folks have decided to create a fictionalized version of Mormons who worship Joseph Smith, rejecting the actual teachings of Joseph Smith, who insisted that the Latter-day Saints worship the Father and the Son. If they want to make a profit from their fiction, though, they are going to have to be much more creative about this, providing some catchy Broadway tunes and some swear words to bring in the crowds.

  • Pingback: A Brief Postscript on “Smithmas”

  • CaliBornUtahnByChoice

    I worry sometimes that we react against this anti nonsense and say LESS about the great prophet. But, I don’t believe we do. We just naturally praise the Messiah and worship our Father in Heaven and his Son. However, and fortunately, our chorister chose for the closing song, “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” aka O How Lovely was the morning. Outside of that, it was, as it should be, all about Heavenly Father and his Son.


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