Ever since I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints eight years ago, I have been asked the question several times.
Do Mormons celebrate Christmas?
I used to be puzzled by this question. Though I grew up in an area where there were few Mormons, I knew that Latter-day Saints celebrated Christmas because the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has a Christmas special on television every year. I thought everyone knew Mormons celebrated Christmas, but I am mistaken.
A few years ago, I was at a hospital where I had an appointment with a specialist. This man had four years of university education and he spent eight years attending medical school. He knew I was a Mormon. At the end of the appointment, he asked me if Mormons celebrated Christmas. I responded that we celebrate Christmas in a big way. Afterwards, I thought that if this well-educated man does not know Latter-day Saints celebrate Christmas, there must a lot of people who don't know.
My fondest memory of Christmas occurred in 2003. Two of my cousins visited me. They grew up on a farm near Castleton, Ontario, Canada. One of my cousins, who likes photography, had a black-and-white photo dated Dec. 25, 1963.
The photo was of my brother, my sister, my two cousins and myself. Three of us were sitting on a sofa and two of us were standing behind the sofa. All of us were children at the time. We recognized the photo was taken at another cousin's house in Newmarket, Ontario, where I live. Surprisingly, none of us remembered ever being together at Christmas. We recreated the photograph. We stood and sat in the same places as the original and a new photo was taken.
I grew up in the Baptist Church. As a teenager, I converted to a religion that did not celebrate Christmas. Where I lived at the time, nearly everyone celebrated Christmas and I was an oddity because I didn't. Unfortunately, I received several comments that there must be something wrong with me and my religion because I didn't celebrate Christmas. Those experiences have made me extremely conscious of the religious differences I have with individuals. I would never be rude to someone because their religious views are different than mine.
Before I retired five years ago, I worked in Toronto. According to one study, Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city in the world. I worked with Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Christians of many denominations. It was a great learning experience for me. It made me a person who is more tolerant of other religions. I have the utmost respect for other faiths and for individuals who do not belong to my faith. This is in harmony with the 11th Article of Faith of the LDS Church which states that everyone has the right to worship as they choose.
To me, Christmas is the celebration of one of the most miraculous events in the history of mankind, the birth of Jesus upon the earth. I deplore the commercialization of Christmas.
This is also a time of getting together with my family. I always make sure I am with my family at Christmas. I know many people who belong to faiths that are not Christian who don't celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas but do celebrate the cultural aspects of Christmas, such as parties and giving gifts.
I feel blessed to live in a part of the world where we have the religious freedom to celebrate Christmas or any other religious holiday if we so choose.
I sit on a city board in Newmarket called the Inclusivity Advisory Committee. Part of what this means is no matter what religious faith a person is, that person is welcome in Newmarket. Our board includes members who are Christians, Hindus and Muslims. All of us respect one another's beliefs and we get along well at our meetings.
I believe I am the first Latter-day Saint to sit on a board in Newmarket. Where I live has changed a lot since I was a child. When I was growing up in Newmarket in the 1950s and 1960s, nearly everyone was either Protestant or Catholic. Now there is a Jewish community, a Mormon meetinghouse and a place for Muslims to gather.
My community is changing, and I'm happy for the religious pluralism that exists in my community and that everyone gets along so well.
Kenneth Sisler is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who lives in Canada.