Spending Christmas with Joseph and Emma
Descendant relates how Prophet observed holidays
The 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith has focused attention not only on his work and his message but also on his personal life. As the holidays approach, some may wonder what the Christmas season would have been like for the early church prophet.
As a great-great-granddaughter of Joseph Smith, Gracia N. Jones has both a historical and a personal interest in that question. A few years back, as she was researching the lives of her ancestors, she began to ponder the holiday connection. "I wondered what Joseph and Emma did at Christmas. In doing my earlier research, it seemed that Joseph was seldom home, so they had very little family time and certainly not much uninterrupted family time because people came constantly to see Joseph, and he never turned anyone away. I wanted to know how this affected their Christmases.
She also wondered if any of the traditions in her own family had been handed down from those earlier generations (her family line comes through Joseph and Emma's son Alexander).
The results of her research ended up in a little book called "The Holidays With Joseph and Emma" (Covenant, $12.95).
Jones discovered that in Joseph's day, Christmas seemed to be one of the lesser holidays. More attention was paid to Easter, birthdays and the Fourth of July than to Christmas. "The Fourth was their greatest holiday. They had parades and flags and big celebrations."
So, what was a typical Christmas like in the Smith home? "I don't think there was a typical one," said Jones, who now lives in St. George but recently was in Salt Lake City to talk about her book. "There were no electric lights and no Christmas trees. They had a feast, if they had access to a goose or venison more than likely that was the main course."
There might have been vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, that would have come from Emma's garden. "She made wonderful puddings, as well as bread, cheese, pies, cakes and cookies."
In addition to the feast, "Joseph loved social gatherings," so there were likely some friends and neighbors gathered for the occasion.
They enjoyed sleigh rides, weather permitting. "There are many references in church history to Joseph and Emma sleigh riding for entertainment, as well as travel." One of Jones' treasured possessions, in fact, is a single sleigh bell that once belonged to her great-great-grandfather. "There would have been a whole string of them. But I just have the one."
In 1835, Joseph's diaries talk of a heavy snowstorm early in December, so he took his wife and children to nearby Painesville, Ohio. (They were living in Kirtland at the time.) "Had a fine ride," he recorded. "The sleighing was good and weather pleasant."
A few days later he wrote, "Enjoyed myself with my family, it being Christmas day, the only time I have had this privilege so satisfactorily for a long time."
By 1837, turmoil was widespread in Kirtland. Joseph Smith III was 5 at the time and later remembered that he had been promised a little wagon, probably for Christmas. It was being built by a wagonmaker not far for their home, so he slipped away one day and went to look in the shop. Joseph Smith III's memoirs record: "I saw the wagon nicely painted red and awaiting the finishing touches before it was to be delivered. Strange to say, I have no recollection of ever having used it."
What is likely, says Jones, is that the wagon was never purchased by the Smiths. "Money became nonexistent with the financial crash that occurred that winter."
By 1843, the Saints had moved to Nauvoo. That would turn out to be the last Christmas that Joseph and Emma spent together. His "History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" records that on Dec. 23, his 38th birthday, he was "at home making preparations for a Christmas Dinner party."
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