I was born in Austria to a family with well-established Christmas traditions. As a young boy I loved the "Advent Season," the four weeks preceding Christmas where extended family and many friends would gather on successive Sunday afternoons and, while lighting the candles on the Advent Wreath, we would sit together and sing the many Austrian and German Christmas carols.
During all these joyful hours of singing and anticipating the advent of Christmas, one particular carol would never be sung. It was not because it was not known or not appropriate. In fact, everybody knew it better than all the other carols. It was the most beloved and special of all Austrian carols, saved for that evening when we as children would stand with our parents in front of the Christmas tree, lit with many beeswax candles, and join together in singing that familiar tune and words: Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht – "Silent Night, Holy Night."Many years later, our family having joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1960, I was working as area architect for the Church in Eastern Europe. An assignment in 1993 took me to St. Petersburg, Russia. It was July and in the height of the long Russian summer. I had the opportunity to attend the Sunday meetings. It was early afternoon as I arrived at the meeting place and walked up the four flights of stairs to the hall in which the Saints gathered. It was very hot. The sacrament meeting proceeded, and I joined in singing the songs of Zion in English while the congregation sang in Russian.
The meeting was concluding and the closing hymn was announced. As the pianist began to play and the congregation started to sing a tune I knew so well but with words I could not understand, I was startled: This was my Christmas carol, the one reserved for Christmas Eve for my immediate family. Here it was on a hot July Sunday afternoon in St. Petersburg. The benediction was offered and the meeting concluded. Sister Tatjana Akimova turned to me and said, "What a wonderful hymn about our Savior!"
It then came to me as a very strong impression that Jesus Christ was born for all mankind, and those faithful members in Russia are my family. To these Saints, who under communist regime grew up without the knowledge of Christ or any Christmas traditions, this carol reflected a beautiful and appropriate way to praise God and celebrate the birth and mission of His Son.
Yes, to many of us, Christmas is about family traditions and special remembrances, but I learned that day in July in Russia that Christmas is foremost about Christ.