Music & the Spoken Word: ‘The spirit of Christmas’

Editor’s note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. This will be given Dec. 12, 2021.

Every year at Christmastime, small children put on makeshift costumes and gather household props to act out the Nativity story while someone reads from Luke chapter 2. Never mind that the real Joseph didn’t wear a fuzzy bathrobe or that the sheep looks suspiciously like the family dog. Adoring parents and grandparents overlook the fact that the donkey missed his cue and the angel forgot her lines.

These homespun productions are cherished because they’re a tender tribute to the beloved Bible story in which Mary “brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (see Luke 2:7).

Perhaps it’s appropriate that such a humble scene should be re-created in such a humble way by innocent but sincere children. Surely that first Christmas night didn’t go exactly as planned for Mary and Joseph, and yet it was still holy — sacred in its simplicity.

The tradition of reenacting the Nativity began in 1223 in Italy. St. Francis of Assisi, recently returned from the Holy Land, invited villagers to a cave where he had set up a simple manger filled with hay and two live animals. Surrounded by these visual reminders of that sacred night, St. Francis preached about the birth of Jesus. (See “Who Staged the First Nativity Scene?” by L.V. Anderson, Slate, Dec. 12, 2013, slate.com.)

Every year at Christmastime, small children put on makeshift costumes and gather household props to act out the Nativity story while someone reads from Luke 2.
Every year at Christmastime, small children put on makeshift costumes and gather household props to act out the Nativity story while someone reads from Luke 2. Credit: Anneke – stock.adobe.com

In the centuries that followed, the idea of re-creating the Nativity spread throughout Europe and then the world. Today, the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels and Wise Men are depicted in a host of artistic styles and cultural traditions, from Austria to Argentina and from Kenya to Cambodia — a testament to the universal significance of that singular point in history, the birth of Jesus Christ. Sometimes it is depicted with small figurines, sometimes with life-size statues or live animals, and, of course, sometimes with children wearing paper beards.

Much more than a Christmas decoration or a fun activity, depictions of the Nativity remind us why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. They aren’t just portraying a historic event; they represent the true spirit of Christmas. “To catch the real meaning of the spirit of Christmas,” a religious leader has reminded us, “we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the Spirit of Christ” (see “The Real Joy of Christmas” by President Thomas S. Monson, First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional, Dec. 8, 2013, broadcasts.ChurchofJesusChrist.org).

Tuning in …

The “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL Radio 1160AM/102.7FM, KSL.comBYUtv, BYUradio, Dish and DirecTV, SiriusXM Radio (Ch. 143), thetabernaclechoir.orgYouTube and Amazon Alexa (must enable skill). The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. MST on many of these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at musicandthespokenword.com/viewers-listeners/airing-schedules.

See the Church News’ archive of ’Spoken Word’ messages