Episode 59: Sister Uchtdorf and her daughter share German Christmas traditions and family memories

Christmas is a favorite time of year for many Christians across the globe who cherish an opportunity to celebrate the birth and life of Jesus Christ. Members of the Savior’s church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, each have unique and special Christmas traditions that come from their families, countries and cultures.

This episode of the Church News podcast explores one family’s Christmas traditions and the beautiful way they share them with others. Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf and Antje Uchtdorf Evans, the wife and daughter of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, discuss how family traditions from their German homeland help them focus on the Savior during the holiday season. And they also share some of these European traditions as they help plan the The Christkindlmarkt at This Is The Place Heritage Park.

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Transcript

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News and welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Christmas is my favorite time of year as Christians across the globe celebrate the birth and life of Jesus Christ. Members of the Savior’s Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, each have unique and special Christmas traditions that come from their families, countries and cultures. This episode of the Church News podcast explores one family’s Christmas traditions and the beautiful way they share them with others. We welcome Harriet R. Uchtdorf, and her daughter, Antje Evans, to talk about Christmas and service and their homeland of Germany and their love for Jesus Christ. Welcome ladies to the Church News podcast.

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: Thank you.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: Thank you.  It’s great to be here.

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: We love to be here.

Sarah Jane Weaver: We want to start today and have you talked about a special Christmas tradition that comes up every year for so many of us who live in the Salt Lake Valley. It is the Christkindlemarkt. Sister Uchtdorf, can you just start and tell us why that is important to you.

1:49

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf:  As a family we always loved going to our local Christkindlmarkt in Germany. Every town and city have their own unique markets and atmosphere. You are welcomed by sweet and wonderful smells of gingerbread, spices and all kinds of delicious food.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: And we all had our favorites when we would go to the markets, right? Which one was your favorite?

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: I like the candied almonds.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: Oh, I think they were all of our favorites. They were so much our favorites, we learned to make them ourselves after your recipe. We still do them.

2:24

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: We also enjoyed the beautiful lights and the traditional Christmas music. People bundled up in their winter coats looking for something special and enjoying the Christmas season. Another fun aspect visiting Christmas markets in Europe is that they are in the prettiest part of town — the old historic market squares. It is amazing that we now have our own Christkindlmarkt here in Salt Lake City. Isn’t that special.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: So amazing.

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: It brings the same old world charm we grew up with and it is found at the prettiest location possible, in the middle of This Is the Place Heritage Park, with a view of the Salt Lake Valley and surrounded by the pioneer village.

3:13

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: The setting really is so charming. And we are now in our final preparation for it. So the Christkindlmarkt Salt Lake City will start Dec. 1 and go through Dec. 4, it will be from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

Lantern holders prepare to enter before the annual Christkindlmarket lantern parade and Christmas tree lighting ceremony at This Is The Place Heritage Park, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012.
Lantern holders prepare to enter before the annual Christkindlmarket lantern parade and Christmas tree lighting ceremony at This Is The Place Heritage Park, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012. Credit: Ben Brewer, Deseret News

03:31

Sarah Jane Weaver: And this is the tenth year that all of us in Salt Lake get to take part in such a wonderful celebration. Can you reflect for us on past celebrations?

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: Yes. These years went by so fast. It was our own dear Allyson Chard who had the idea to bring a German Christmas market to Utah. She had lived in Germany and learned to love these markets. She is the heart and the brain.

3:57

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: We have learned so much from her from her leadership and her gentle heart.

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: The location of this family event is most important. We are so grateful that the Pioneer Heritage Park opened its doors to Christkindlmarkt Salt Lake City. There is no better place for it in Utah. With its history of pioneers coming into the valley, searching for a place to live their Christian faith in peace. Their values always reflected the importance of families.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: And Christkindlmarkt Salt Lake City has grown so much over the years, more than we could have ever imagined. Everyone is invited to come. There is no entrance fee. You can enjoy the delicious food, the musical performances all day. We have a live nativity on the first evening, Wednesday night at 6 p.m. There are parades, cultural presentations, we even do field trips for schools. And of course you can find unique gifts and so much more. So my family moved Utah in 2008, so we could be closer to our parents, who my father always called “were a special kind of orphans” until we came here. So we are so happy to be here. So when we came our son, our youngest, was still in elementary school, and his two older brothers were on missions. So back then a friend invited us to the new Christkindlmarkt Salt Lake City. We were so thrilled by this American experience of one of our beloved German Christmas traditions. We felt at home right away. And then we were even more thrilled when my mother and I were invited to join the Christkindlmarkt leadership committees. And since then, we have just loved being part of this great team of amazing volunteers. All of them so dedicated, so creative and talented; they have become wonderful, wonderful friends.

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: We love them all.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: Yes, and all of their excitement is so contagious. And everyone can feel this excitement when they come.

6:01

Sarah Jane Weaver: I know I have been to Christkindlmarkt in the past and you have to go early to find a good parking space.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: That’s the best advice you can give.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And my children have also participated through their schools, and they come home and they share these traditions and they are so excited. It feels like service is also a part of what you are doing there?

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: Very much so.

6:23

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: The main focus is on Christ and His birth. He is the center of any meaningful service. Christkindlmarkt Salt Lake City uses also the story of the St. Martin as its service story. A Roman soldier who became a priest was known for his compassion and good works. His acts of kindness are celebrated throughout Europe.

6:50

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: In Germany, we celebrate St Martin’s Day on Nov. 11. That is also the day when we kick off our service project every year. So in Germany you find children and families walking through the towns with lanterns that they have made themselves and they sing songs that they have learned. It is a special event. At the Heritage Park, we also have a Lantern Parade for everyone to participate in. And, it is of course, especially for children and youth. This year’s Lantern Parade will be on Thursday, Dec. 2, at 6 p.m. But every year we do choose one special service project as a gift to the community. Last year, we helped the Navajo Nation, which was so hard hit by COVID. It was such a great success, and we were so grateful for the overwhelming participation of the community. This year, our service project will focus on the support for refugees and foster families. And everyone again is invited to come and help. You can find additional information on our website, Christkindlmarktslc.com. The focus that we have at Christkindlmarkt Salt Lake City on service, I think, is unique. And it differentiates us from other markets. I don’t think I’ve ever known one in Germany that has that in our form, because others are mostly commercial in nature. But this adds for us a special purpose and a deeper meaning and motivation for us also to participate.

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf, executive board member of the Christkindlmarkt SLC and wife of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, helps pack donated items into boxes in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. These boxes will be distributed to the Navajo Nation.
Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf, executive board member of the Christkindlmarkt SLC and wife of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, helps pack donated items into boxes in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. These boxes will be distributed to the Navajo Nation. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

8:20

Sarah Jane Weaver: And it has to feel so wonderful to participate in that and think of your own family traditions. Are you willing to share some of your German Christmas traditions that your family celebrates every year?

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are all familiar with the beautiful invitation of the scriptures to prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. In addition, in Germany, there is the delightful tradition to use the four weeks before Christmas as a preparation. It’s called Advent, the Latin word used for “coming” or “arrival”. In our family. We always loved the Advent season, these four weeks before Christmas. It is a time of expectation and preparation for the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

9:11

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: And my mother, she always made it extra special, this Advent season. She was so amazing in decorating, and also a wonderful cook and baker. In Germany, we have special recipes for cookies that are just made for Christmas. There is even a different name for the word cookie, just for the Christmas cookies. And these recipes that we have had growing up are still the ones that we use today. They are not easy to make, so we only really make them at Christmas, otherwise it would be too much work. But we love those and we love those many memories. Another tradition is the Advent wreath. It is a wreath of pine branches so it has this nice smell. And we have four candles on it and each Sunday a new candle is lit and then when all four are shining we know Christmas is here. So we sit around the Advent wreath, we read stories, we sing carols, we eat those special cookies, we drink hot chocolate or apple cider, and, most importantly, we spent precious time together as family and friends. Another thing we loved during the Advent season is the Advent calendar, which, of course, has now made its way to the U.S. You can see everywhere. It is a fun way to look forward and to count down to Christmas. We loved the chocolate Advent calendars, of course, as children, but we even more loved the ones that had a story every day. My mother would read them to us. And these were usually focused on the events around Christ’s birth, or even sometimes stories about kindness and goodness and doing things for one another. So we loved listening to these beautiful Advent stories.

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: This tradition is now dearly beloved and practiced by our grand and great grandchildren now.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: This is very fun.

11:04

Sarah Jane Weaver: I want to start that tradition too. I love the idea of counting down the days to Christmas by sharing a special, especially a Christ-centered story. I really am going to do that this year. But let’s talk about why it is important that we have family traditions.

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: Traditions become memories and family treasures. Creating good memories brings families and friends closer together and builds strong personal relations. When my husband and I started our family, we always felt that our children were the rainbows in our lives. Now Elder Uchtdorf always says grandchildren and great grandchildren are the treasure at the end of the rainbow.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: I can relate to that; I’m a grandmother too. So true.

11:52

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: Also precious Christmas traditions help us to be with our children in heart and feeling; we can participate in their joyful experience, even when they are far away.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: And physical distance never seemed to have really distanced us as a family. And I think that is one of the great blessings of my parents’ service.

Members of the Christkindlmarkt committee at the St. Martin’s service project in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday, December 8, 2020. The women are wearing German hats which are often decorated with pins and feathers.
Members of the Christkindlmarkt committee at the St. Martin’s service project in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday, December 8, 2020. The women are wearing German hats which are often decorated with pins and feathers. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

12:14

Sarah Jane Weaver: And Sister Uchtdorf, you still have a son that lives in Europe. How do you connect with him when he, and your grandchildren, are so far away?

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: Well, yes, we miss our son, Guido’s family, so very much. But thankfully, there are many ways to stay connected in today’s world: technology, phone calls, packages, emails, and, of course, prayers and memories. Two children of our Swiss part of the family, one granddaughter and one grandson, are presently on missions in Europe. How we love their emails, their video productions, and the music they share. They share with us their wonderful experiences and challenges as a serve away from home. They love serving with members and other missionaries. Highlights for us are always their spiritual experiences in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. Their service for the Lord and God’s children are our blessings and treasured gifts to us. We are so grateful for them.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: And we love when they come home from their mission, but we do miss their emails. It’s a special part of this time in the life of missionaries.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, I also have a missionary out and we cannot wait for Monday. They are our favorite days because we not only get an email, we get some pictures and we get a phone call. That’s amazing. So, Sister Evans you talked about your favorite recipes or times of the year when you make just one special Christmas cookie. Do you have favorite Christmas recipes or Christmas hymns? I’m just interested in what your average Christmas family celebration looks like?

14:01

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: Sure, I’d love to share that. Our sons loved going caroling in our neighborhood a few days before Christmas. I think that was their favorite memory that they have. The missionaries would often join us, which was extra special. And we would walk together and sing hymns and we had a guitar and we had the traditional block flutes with us and our neighbors would always look forward to our little choir. And often they would have already homemade cookies ready for us to take home. The missionaries would get a huge bag; we would get a little smaller one. But this was something wonderful for our neighborhood. Our town’s Protestant pastor was a direct neighbor to us and he loved when we came by and sang hymns from our hymn book. He especially enjoyed when we sang what he called, “the American hymns,” like “Away in the Manger.” We would introduce him to a new song, a new hymn, every year. “Away in a Manger” is a great hymn to sing acapella. We love that. “O Tannenbaum,” of course, has to be part of every Christmas celebration as we sing it around the Christmas tree. And “O Tannenbaum,” actually, in its traditional form talks about the pine tree, the evergreen tree, not the decorated Christmas tree. So when we sing “O Tannenbaum,” we celebrate its loyalty, its steadfastness. We say, “it’s true because it’s evergreen, and always there.” So this is a special song that we like to sing. And Christmas is not Christmas without “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,” “Silent Night”. And I think that is the same here in the U.S. So how do we celebrate? In Germany, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve on the 24th. Usually, we would go to Church in the afternoon, and meet with our ward family and hear messages and music about Christ and His birth. Then we would drive home and gather around the festive Christmas tree, seeing for the first time the presents that had magically appeared. So still today, we follow the simple tradition of singing carols, of reading the Bible account in Luke 2, and then opening presents and eating potato salad with a special kind of sausage. The 25th, then, is the day to enjoy family time, to play together, to have a bigger special Christmas meal that often includes turkey, which is our nod to America and our American influence. But then we have to add dumplings and red cabbage.

16:42

Sarah Jane Weaver: It sounds like each of you have special, special memories of Christmas. Is there a specific Christmas that you remember best?

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: Of course, it is hard to pick which Christmas is the best. But what I always loved is when there was snow on Christmas. Because where we lived, snow wasn’t that common like it is here, or in other parts in Germany. But it was magical when we had snow. There’s even a little Christmas carol that talks about the snowflake, “The Snowflake.” And we asked, “When will you come? You are living above the clouds. You are so far away.” And it was extra special and magical when we had snow at Christmas. And then when we had missionaries, our older sons in Taiwan, and we only had very few connections during the year, we loved those Christmas missionary calls. I think those were some of our favorites.

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: Those were the times, the only ones, at Christmas time and Mother’s Day.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: I think that is when we only had two phone calls. And that was extra special at Christmas time to hear from them.

17:44

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: Well, each Christmas has its own beauty. Each year, we feel this was the best. But then comes next Christmas. More children join the family, the circle of friends grows larger and deeper. New experiences are added; even the pandemic experience added a new dimension of appreciation and gratitude. Of course, worries and sorrows are also there. But they add to our storehouse of memories in a special way. We learn to better cherish each moment and time spent with family and friends. These are the best memories. Christmas has a message that brings joy and hope.

18:28

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well and Elder Uchtdorf’s ministry as an Apostle of Jesus Christ has taken you across the globe. And you have seen that we are all part of one beautiful global Church. Can you share your feelings for the Latter-day Saints that you have met across the world, especially when you think about them at Christmas time?

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: In our service Elder Uchtdorf and I travel the world and meet members in all places and circumstances. We recognize that we really are a global Church, connected through the beautiful message of the universal gospel, a message of peace and hope.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: And we love when my parents come home after their travels and share these wonderful stories and their experiences and we feel so close and connected to the members all over the world.

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: And happiness also comes from knowing that we are all brothers and sisters, beloved children of our Heavenly Father, sharing the Christmas story by actively and intentionally serving and loving God and His children. These are the uniting experiences across the globe.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: My parents are such great examples in this in actively and intentionally serving and loving God in their service and we really try to follow their lead.

Christkindl angel sings with school children during performance of St. Martin song just after lantern parade.
Christkindl angel sings with school children during performance of St. Martin song just after lantern parade. Credit: R. Scott Lloyd

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: The message of the birth and life of Christ have the power of healing and peace throughout the year. But especially during the Christmas season, they have the strength to overcome differences, even in challenging times. Christ is the light and the hope for all the world. And this is true this Christmas and always.

20:11

Sarah Jane Weaver: As I have traveled for Church News, I always try and bring home a Christmas Nativity from every country. And at first, we put them out at Christmas. And now we just leave them out all year round because we love what they represent. We love that they represent different cultures and places, and we love that they represent the Savior and His birth and his life. Sister Evans, you probably have some Christmas traditions that have made their way into your family’s Christmas celebrations that maybe are not German, something that maybe your husband brought with him or that your sons picked up on their missions? Can you share some of those with us?

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: Well, I think we have the same thought, you and I, because we love collecting Nativities. Our sons have brought beautiful wood Nativities from their mission in Taiwan, and we very carefully put them out and no one gets to touch them and we only do it at Christmas time. It is too dangerous to leave them out the rest of the year. But we also have a nice wooden one from Germany that is hand carved. But it’s very sturdy. And it’s great for children to play with. So I think that’s our favorite one that we have. And every year, as they were growing up, we would add something new to it. So every year we had a new animal or another shepherd. That’s why our Nativity has elephants and hedgehogs and chickens, and mice and those kinds of animals because everyone wants to and gets to see baby Jesus in the manger. And this is a great Nativity to use when telling the Nativity story with young kids, or when singing the Nativity song, and using these special figures. So that’s been one that our children have loved throughout their growing up years, and now the grandchildren get to play with it as well. So we’ve gathered many different Nativity sets as we have traveled the world as well. And I love, like you said, the cultural representation, and to really see that the whole world is celebrating Christ’s birth and is connected to this beautiful message of hope and peace.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I love that everyone is welcome in your Nativity, that all different kinds of animals get to get to come. My favorite Nativities are ones where Mary or Joseph are holding the baby. Because I have to think that they wanted to hold Him.

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: Yes, yes.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: Yes, well in our wooden one, not only Joseph and Mary want to hold the baby, but the children that play with it. So the one thing that we always had to find in the house was little baby Jesus, because they would take him from the manger, and want to just keep Him with them all the time.

22:49

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, it is true that that Christmas is all about the Savior and even the smallest children recognize that and feel that. Sister Uchtdorf how can we remember the Savior each Christmas season,

23:02

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: The Savior is the greatest gift in our lives. He has shown us how to live and has given His life for us. We can celebrate Him by living His gospel, by giving and serving others. There are so many opportunities in our families, neighborhoods and communities. We can use the Christmas season to have our personal Advent experience by preparing better for this coming.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: We always love the opportunities that our parents have given us to serve. We have sometimes even done service on Christmas Day. And those are special memories that we cherish and that we are grateful for our parents giving to us.

23:46

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: I sometimes wonder, what would the Savior do if He was among us right now? Maybe we all wonder about that. How would we approach the challenges we have as individuals, families, communities, and nations? And then I ask myself, “How can we be his hands? How can we lift where we stand?” I am confident that He would keep God’s commandments. He would serve God and he would love and serve those around Him whoever they are. Following His example, may be the best way to celebrate Christmas each and every year.

24:30

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well in we have a tradition at the church news podcast, where we always give our guests the last word. And we have all of our guests answer the same question. But I don’t want to ask you the question today because I would love to keep talking about Christmas forever, especially your your sweet German Christmas traditions. But as we close this podcast, can each of you tell us what you know now after celebrating Christmas each year, and embracing so many beautiful traditions and focusing on the Savior?

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: So when asking our children what their favorite memories of Christmas have been, is always the simple ones. Sometimes that made me disappointed because I put so much effort in some things, and they would recognize and love the ones that were quite simple. It gave me pause, for sure, to really think about what and how do I want to celebrate Christmas. It’s the time spent together. It’s doing something special for others. It’s following the pattern Christ set in His life. It’s those quiet moments. And this is what brings joy and happiness and brings smiles and brings hope and peace at Christmas and throughout the year, I have a great testimony of the wonderful mission of Christ, of His birth. And then, of course, connected with that has to be His sacrifice and His resurrection. This is the biggest event we can celebrate in life. And I think that is why Christmas is so special, because it is the most important event that we can celebrate. And it is also very personal. Because I feel His love. And it motivates me every day to do the things I do. And it makes me love and care differently. And I’m so grateful for this knowledge of Christ as my Savior. And as the one who has come in a humble birth, and yet is my Master, my Savior, my Redeemer. I’m so grateful for that. And that is my testimony.

26:34

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: I have also a testimony of our Savior Jesus Christ. He is so very close to me. And each and every day, I pray that I have the gift of the Holy Ghost with me, that I can feel what is right, right now. And also that I feel what to do, to be a good example and a good person in the world and make the world a little bit nicer. I’m so glad and so happy to have the Savior and the gospel in my life. We should not let traditions overshadow the true meaning of Christmas. This will make it beautiful and unforgettable each year.

Sister Antje Uchtdorf Evans: And we are so excited for this Christmas.

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf: Yes, we are.

27:34

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com