Christmastime in Utah is far colder than Elder Terence M. Vinson is used to. December typically has days of beach, surf and barbecues in Australia, where he is from.
Friends of his in Samoa have a tradition of placing food and other goodies in boxes for needy families in their community the day after Christmas. They also have a two-acre vegetable garden, the produce of which is mostly given to people in need.
Another friend from Côte d'Ivoire told him that in his home village, villagers take any unresolved conflicts to their leaders each Christmas Eve. Those leaders spend the rest of the day working with those families to resolve conflicts so that every home will have peace and harmony on Christmas.
"Whether in Sydney, Salt Lake or Sierra Leone; whether in Nuku'alofa, Newfoundland or Nigeria, our Savior's birth inspires people to do good things," Elder Vinson of the Presidency of the Seventy said during the First Presidency's Christmas Devotional on Dec. 2.
Christmas has many precious family memories for him, but not all of them are good ones. Elder Vinson told how when he was a young boy, he received a prized green matchbox racing car from his father. He loved this gift, but one day, in a fit of anger, he threw the toy into a thick wisteria bush.
"Immediately I was sorry," he said, "not just that I'd thrown the toy away, but because I felt it symbolized a rejection of my father's expression of love."
Despite searching for the toy car, Elder Vinson never found it, and he still feels the pain of having offended his father.
"You know, that is analogous to our sometimes rejection of our Heavenly Father's love and His gifts to us, the greatest of which is His having sent His Son to suffer and atone for us. What a tragedy if we reject His atoning sacrifice or the covenants and ordinances of His gospel!"
One way to show this love for God and His Son is to serve others.
When Elder Vinson's daughter was two years old, she broke her leg just before Christmas and spent many weeks in the hospital. A family in their ward, who was not well off financially, came to visit her on Christmas Day. Each of the children brought their own favorite gift received that morning, presented to her as their gift to her.
"This is the real spirit of Christmas — individuals helping others. After all, an important part of the Savior's legacy was His ministering to the 'one,'" Elder Vinson said.
Christmas is a time when each can focus on his or her personal gift to the Savior by continually loving and helping others, he said. "It's up to us to make Christ a part of our lives — to accept the gifts He offers us and to give Him the gift of our heart."