Sermoncitos, a family tradition
Lamanite traditions are usually characterized by the Nephite writers as false traditions that prevent people from accepting the true religion and living in peace (Mosiah 1:5; 10:12-17; Alma 3:8; 9:16,17; 17:9-15; 24:7-10; 60:32; Helaman 5:51; 15:7-9; 6:7; Alma 37:25-31; 4 Nephi 1:38-39).
Nephite traditions are usually characterized as correct ideas that lead to salvation and peace (Enos 1:14; Mosiah 26:1; 60:34; 1 Nephi 15:14; Alma 37:32-37; 3 Nephi 1:9-11; Alma 21:8: Helaman 7:5; 20; 13:21-22; 1 Nephi 1:37).
The solution for keeping correct traditions is clear in the scripture: Nephites preserved correct traditions by keeping records (Alma 3:11). Lamanites who believed the scriptures abandoned the traditions of their fathers (3 Nephi 5:3-6; Helaman 15:15).
Practicing false traditions can deviate us from correct paths. It would behoove us to periodically review our own traditions to be sure that they represent and facilitate our beliefs.
December traditions practiced by my parents in California did not include a “white Christmas”. We did more singing around the organ. We had a devotional around the lighted tree on the 24th that included a reading of Luke Chapter 2 as well as “The Night Before Christmas”. The next morning we were ushered past the tree and into the kitchen for a hardy breakfast before we could gather as a family to unwrap presents from each other and see what Santa had brought in the night. This year it is just the two of us at home. We have not killed any trees or strung any special lights. We are not looking for Santa Claus to come down the chimney, and we are not even singing carols around the organ. Our traditions have changed with our circumstances. We join in community celebrations that reinforce and give voice to our beliefs.
Janeen’s office party fostered good will and thoughtfulness through a “Secret Santa” gift exchange. For several days each person left little gifts and sayings. Roy’s office selected two families in need. Each was assigned to prepare gifts or food to help them celebrate. By thinking of others we are following the Lord’s example of giving (3 Nephi 13:1); and laying up treasures in heaven (3 Nephi 13:20).
The Gallup community choir and orchestra presented Handel’s Messiah to a full house. The music delivers the message of Nephi’s favorite writer, Isaiah, that the Savior would come to bring peace to a troubled world. This music has been a Christmas tradition since 1741. Those who attended could hear the Gospel quoted directly from the scriptures: Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together (3 Nephi 16:18-20).
Four musical groups performed at the Christmas Caroling concert in Gallup. In the European tradition a carol was a secular song about the birth of Jesus, and not one officially sanctioned by the church. Tens of thousands of these tunes have come and gone since our oldest known carol was written back in 1410. In our singing, let us remember the carols and hymns that remind us of the Savior, and keep “Frosty the Snowman” and all the holiday songs in their place (Alma 5:26).
Some of our strongest traditions like mistletoe, holly, decorated trees, and even Santa Claus, are adapted for Christmas from other cultures. The tropical Poinsettia was brought from Mexico to South Carolina by Ambassador Dr. Joel Poinsett. Since it bloomed in December and had red leaves, it easily adapted to the Christmas tradition of the U.S. We can’t keep it alive in our climate, but we don’t try to keep the trees alive either. In Mexico, the 16th Century Spanish priests created new stories to overcome the traditions of the people, including a story of a Christmas miracle to change “El Cuetlaxóchitl” into “la flor de la noche buena”. Indeed, El Cuetlaxóchitl had been used for centuries in México by physicians to treat disease, by weavers as a dye, and by priests to overcome evil (Alma 46:40).
Hard candy sticks were first bent into a cane by a choir master in Cologne in 1670. He just wanted to keep the kids quiet during the services. The crook made it easy to hang on a tree. The red stripes were invented by Bob McCormick in Albany, New York in 1920, and the legends and myths about the meaning of the shepherds crook and the red blood and the purity of the white were added. Candy canes may be an invention, and not even good for our teeth and cholesterol, but if we try we can add stories to any tradition that attach those practices to our beliefs. The test of the goodness of a tradition is the result (3 Nephi 14: 18, 20).
We believe with Joseph Smith that Christ was born during the lambing season of the spring, but are glad to celebrate the coming of our Savior along with the rest of the world in December. We need a celebration of lights when the nights are long and cold (3 Nephi 1:15). Let’s celebrate our Christian belief with Christian living, every chance we get (3 Nephi 16:4).
I attend many conferences which celebrate and promote the traditions of various groups, especially those whose languages and cultures are in danger of being lost. The people who attend are simultaneously open to a variety of practices, and dedicated to helping people keep alive their specific traditions, and to creating environments that are safe for differences. The history of the world is replete with examples of intolerance. At the Binational Summit for Rural Indigenous Education in Creel, Chihuahua today, many examples were shared of oppression of native languages and cultures. Now there seems to be a trend for governments to have official policies supporting native languages and cultural perspectives, but there are many barriers to implementing these policies, the strongest of which are the attitudes of people and the way they treat one another when there is a difference.
My own family has suffered for generations in many ways. When my father was a young boy in Mina, Nevada, he was an outcast due to the religion of his family. As a result he spent a lot of time with his dog and his burro, wandering about the desert. His only friends were other outcasts: the Italian Catholic boy, and the Washoe boy. As a result, he became an expert in rocks and raised a family with multicultural values, including learning languages and making friends of various countries and creeds. Another result was a clear definition of his own values and the ability to pass those values on to his children, and their children, and their children.
Today we are bombarded with challenges to our values. In Chihuahua there are communities of people (such as the Mennonites and Tarahumara) who live apart from others as a choice to insulate themselves from the influence of the world in order to preserve their values throughout each generation. The conference identified challenges to those communities. As their children leave the traditional community for education or work they are more likely to transfer their support to other traditions. They are losing their children to worldliness, marriage into other traditions, and the vagaries of life. No one can keep their children from the world, not even ourselves. How can we live in the world, but not be of the world?
The traditions of December can help. If we join with the world in seeing December as a time for giving, we are following the Lord’s example of giving (3 Nephi 13:1) t’¡¡ aan¶¶ aan¶igo, ¡dishn¶ baa dahojoob¡’¶ baa djiinohbaah; and laying up treasures in heaven (3 Nephi 13:20) ndi naadee¬ii da’ílíinii yá’™™shdi hasht’endahoj¡¡h. Of course, if we join with the world as seeing December as a time for getting, we are in danger of losing our values.
Another help is our weekly practice of ordinances and teachings and fellowship at church meetings. Our children see that highly valued people live and speak as they do, and it becomes safer and more desirable for them to be like their parents.
The most important way to preserve our values is for our children to see us practice them daily. Choose to view only the best in entertainment. Choose to model speech that honors the creator and is respectful of others. Choose to seek knowledge from the best books. Show your children your love with the gift of time and good conversation and by listening to them. Teach children about Jesus. He was criticized for spending time with those of various cultures and classes; but he was able to interact with different people with confidence because he was secure in his own beliefs and values.
Gordon B. Hinckley said: “These are the days long forseen when the earth would be in turmoil. Jesus reassured us that the Lord is in charge of our fate, and when we are in tune with His teachings and Spirit, we will be under His influence. No power on earth can thwart the progress of His work. Act in love for others, be kind in spite of differences, pray, be obedient, be good.”