Joseph Smith's birth, which occurred 196 years ago, was but lightly observed by him during his lifetime, partly because of the arduous nature of the frontier where he spent his life, and partly because of the troubles he faced frequently as the Prophet of the Restoration.
He was born Dec. 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vt., the fourth child of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith. Many of the anniversaries of this date were overshadowed by dramatic events financial woes and family moves, successive crop failures, later wondrous spiritual experiences, the death of his brother Alvin, his marriage to Emma Hale, and the loss of their first child. After the Church was organized in 1830, woes of persecutions were only slightly interspersed with happy returns of his birthday seasons, which were linked in season by proximity to Christmas. (See "Christmas with the Prophet Joseph Smith," by Larry C. Porter, Ensign, December 1978.)
Two of his birthday seasons during adulthood were particularly happy. The first was in 1835 when on Dec. 9-10, a number of friends came by with presents.
"Elder Packard came in this morning, and made me a present of twelve dollars, which he held in a note against me. May God bless him in his liberality," the Prophet recorded. Others also forgave notes and gave him funds, for which "My heart swells with gratitude inexpressible when I realize the great condescension of my Heavenly Father, in opening the hearts of these my beloved brethren to administer so liberally to my wants," he recorded. On Christmas day, he wrote, "Enjoyed myself at home with my family, all day, it being Christmas, the only time I have had this privilege so satisfactorily for a long period."
The next half a dozen birthday seasons were filled with tribulation that included dissention within the Church, persecution, confinement to the Liberty Jail, and the death of a newborn son.
His last birthday and Christmas season, enjoyed just half a year before his martyrdom, was among the most pleasant. On Christmas morning, he was awakened about 1 a.m. by the melodies of carolers: a widow, Lettice Rushton and her family and neighbors.
"All of my family and boarders arose to hear the serenade and I felt to thank my Heavenly Father for their visit and blessed them in the name of the Lord," he wrote.
That evening a gathering of family and friends enjoyed supper with the Prophet, followed by dancing and music. The happy scene was interrupted by "a man with his hair long and falling over his shoulders, and apparently drunk." As the man in reality emaciated and half-starved instead of drunk was being put outside, "I had an opportunity to look him full in the face, when to my great surprise and joy untold, I discovered it was my long-tried, warm, but cruelly persecuted friend, Orrin Porter Rockwell, just arrived from nearly a year's imprisonment without conviction, in Missouri."
This warm reunion was the highlight of the day for gathering.