‘This greatest of all traditions’

‘Good tidings of great joy’

Transcript of this address.

Speaking of Christmas traditions, President James E. Faust emphasized that the greatest tradition is also the very reason Christmas is celebrated. "The 'good tidings of great joy' must 'be to all people.' All of our individual traditions should point to this greatest of all traditions," he said.

pres. faust at devotional
pres. faust at devotional Credit: Photo by Johanna Workman

President Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, addressed a congregation in the Conference Center during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional Dec. 2.

"For most of Christendom, Christmas is a season of loving, giving, rejoicing and remembering," he said. "We recall the happy times and especially the people we love, some of whom may no longer be with us. One reason that Christmas is so meaningful is because year after year we follow traditions that help us bind together as families and friends."

Recalling his own Christmas traditions, President Faust related how his family used to act out the Nativity each year. "One of our sons always played the role of the donkey that Mary rode to Bethlehem. With artificial donkey ears draped over his ears, he would get down on his hands and knees and one of the little girls would ride on his back. One year he decided he had played the role of the donkey long enough. We can find those who will volunteer to play Joseph and Mary. We can find more who want to play the wise men, but no one wants to be the donkey!"

Continuing, President Faust spoke of Christmas puddings with raisins, nuts and lemon sauce. The Cratchit Family of A Christmas Carol, he said, had roasted goose and steaming Christmas pudding. "[Charles] Dickens' character Scrooge is universally known for his bah humbug avoidance of Christmas. He is visited by the ghost of his late business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns Scrooge of the awful destiny that awaits him unless he changes his miserly ways."

Scrooge is visited by the spirits of Christmas past, present and future. "Scrooge realizes that these are scenes that may be changed if he will only change. In this story, Dickens teaches us that we can all keep Christmas better by doing good and that in keeping Christmas traditions, we bind ourselves to the past, present and future."

President Faust recalled one of his own Christmas pasts, during which one of his sons and wife were in college and had very little. "Christmas time came, and they had no money to buy any Christmas presents. With considerable ingenuity, they got some small rocks, washed them, dried them, painted them, and gave to each of us a nice hand-painted rock for Christmas. Each rock was unique. With the passage of time their circumstances improved, but we still treasure the memory of the rock we received from them when they had no money."

The Christmas story of Ranetta Van Zyverden was next shared by President Faust. Quoting her from the book, Memorable Christmas Stories, 1974, compiled by Leon R. Hartshorn, President Faust quoted: "I had been away from home, working and going to school for the past few years. I had married and was blessed with a two-month-old son. My husband was going to college and working all night to bring in a meager income. Yet we had managed to purchase a humble Christmas tree that to us was tall in stature. As I sat looking upon its bare limbs I reflected on past Christmases.

The Tabernacle Choir sings during The First Presidency Christmas Devotional at the Conference Center, Sunday, December 2, 2001.
The Tabernacle Choir sings during The First Presidency Christmas Devotional at the Conference Center, Sunday, December 2, 2001. Credit: Photo by Johanna Workman

"There I was home in Kansas, where I was reared by my grandparents. How I loved those specially adorned Christmas trees with sparkling ornaments of history. We would cut down our own cedar tree.

"After setting it up at home, we would drag out that old heavy cardboard box which held the trimmings. Decorating was always my treat, taking out the familiar items, some being very old, saved off trees of my great-great-grandmother's. I cherished those little things, like the little glass angel that spun from a string. Another was a little china doll my father had received as a child at a Christmas party. It still wore the same ribbon dress. My father had passed on when I was only five, so it was very dear to me. . . .

"There were new things, too, that had been bought when I was a little girl, which we had also added each year. Probably the best-loved by me was the face of an angel with a light behind. Last, but not least, when everything was on, we finished by drenching the tree with icicles. We would turn off all the house lights, turn on the tree lights, and just sit and look at it. . . .

"As I was remembering these wonderful things a sadness filled my heart. . . . Tears streamed down my face as I looked at our little son. I'm being foolish; he won't even remember this Christmas. Still it was his first Yuletide and my tears kept coming.

"At that moment the doorbell rang. 'Who on earth. . . ?' I muttered as I went to the door, trying to wipe away my tears. 'Special package for you today,' greeted a smiling postman. 'Sign here, please.'

"I signed, and as he stepped back he handed me a box. 'Gifts from home,' I thought. 'Great. Well, at least we'll have gifts to go under our tree.' "

The author then pulled away the brown wrapping to find "that familiar old cardboard box," along with a letter from her loved ones. "I know that it is hard starting out in life. I know that you always loved the things we had and that they have a special meaning to you. Our love and best wishes for your happiness," the note read.

"As I took out and looked at the cherished items, my tears were tears of joy!" the story continued.

President Faust concluded: "As we think of the happiness of Christmases past and the joy of this Christmas, may we savor and perpetuate the Christmas traditions which express our endearment and love to each other."