‘Christmas vs. holiday’ debate foreign to God
The recent controversy over the use of the expression "Happy Holidays" in lieu of "Merry Christmas" has made this a season to be remembered.
Coincidentally, 200 years ago, on Dec. 23, 1805, Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was born in Vermont. Today, there are millions around the world who acknowledge Smith as a latter-day prophet. Commemorating the bicentennial of Smith's birth, believers and skeptics alike are looking at the many contributions of this 19th-century American and considering their impact on modern issues.
How would Smith's insights contribute to the discussion of the Christmas vs. holidays issue? Smith claimed that he was visited and instructed by a number of heavenly messengers between 1820 and his martyrdom in 1844. Were he alive today, Smith might answer that God is very interested in human affairs and that far from being political correctness run amok, the Christmas vs. holiday discussion, although relevant, does not amount to the level of controversy. Rather, Smith might see it as an acknowledgment of the natural diversity of the human spirit.
In April 1842 he stated, "While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard." Smith said, "We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to ... their means of obtaining intelligence ... the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family."
Smith would say that God grants the nations of the world the privilege of free exercise of their religions and philosophies, as long as these do not curtail the fundamental rights of others.
Smith also said, "The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge," and "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."
These statements suggest that the desire to acknowledge and appreciate the diversity of the human experience is divinely inspired.
Considering that the celebration of Christmas did not originate at the time of Jesus, this holiday can coexist peacefully with any other religious or cultural expressions associated with the season. Joseph Smith Jr. testified to the world that God is the literal, loving father of us all. As such, God will not refuse any of his children's joyful celebration of this season, whether Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa.
Marcus H. Martins is chairman of the Department of Religious Education at Brigham Young University-Hawaii.