Celebrate RamaChristmaHanaKwanzaSmith Day!!

12.25.06 | | 14 comments

So my daughter came home the other day and announced that she and her friends had developed a solution to the difficulties caused by the different holidays they celebrate — just call them all RamaChristmaHanaKwanzakah! Of course, conflating all the major religious holidays that often occur in December may not really be a solution (regardless of whether or not there is even a problem), but their idea got me thinking about the relative lack of Mormon holidays.

For nearly a decade now I’ve looked on Mormonism as a separate branch of Christianity — akin to Catholicism, Protestantism and Easter Orthodoxy. Looking at our tradition in that way explains a lot — especially how are beliefs are so radically different from mainline (and mostly Protestant) Christianity in the US.

But culturally, Mormonism is not nearly as developed as the other, older, branches of Christianity: we don’t have their cultural traditions.

A good example of this is in our holidays. Like the other branches of Christianity, we celebrate the major Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter. Given our roots in the United States, we also tend to celebrate, at least in the US, important US holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Independence Day. Outside the US, Mormons also celebrate national holidays and those important to local culture.

The problem is that we don’t really have many uniquely Mormon holidays. The only real exception is Pioneer Day, and it isn’t as well developed as it could be.

What do I mean? A holiday is more than a day off of work. Wikipedia defines a holiday as: “a day set aside by a nation or culture (in some cases, multiple nations and cultures) typically for celebration but sometimes for some other kind of special culture-wide (or national) observance or activity. A holiday can also be a special day on which school and/or offices are closed, such as Labor Day.”

It seems to me that the “observance or activity” is an extremely important part of a holiday. Christmas has Christmas trees, gifts, and a host of other traditional activities associated with it. Easter has Easter eggs and baskets, Church activities, etc. Thanksgiving has a meal and its associated traditional meaning. Independence day has picnics, fireworks and so on. Obviously the more unique these activities are to that day, the stronger the holiday.

What does Pioneer day have? I’m rarely in Utah for Pioneer day, but I get the sense that it isn’t much different from Independence day there. [Although since the sequicentennial of the entrance of the Mormon pioneers in Utah July 24, 1847, I believe there has been an increase in local re-enactments of the trek, so perhaps this should be associated with Pioneer day.]

Outside of Utah, it isn’t a day off of work, and we Mormons generally don’t tell our employers that it is a religious holiday we should get off. Our stake here in New York City often holds a Pioneer Day picnic, but that isn’t very unique to me. When those outside of Utah do celebrate it, is this what we should do? Should Pioneer Day be connected with picnics? Somehow I don’t think that what the Pioneers experienced was a picnic!

The lack of a clear and somewhat unique activity or observance associated with Pioneer Day makes it much harder for those outside of Utah or converts to understand it and accept it as a holiday, let alone understand what happened that day. Perhaps the ‘reenactment’ idea is a place to start. It will still be quite foreign to new members, but at least it is unique and communicates well what happened on Pioneer Day.

Is Pioneer Day enough? I hardly think so. While I’m not advocating the extensive system of Catholicism (where holidays seem so frequent that it seems every day has its saint and might therefore be considered a holiday), I do think we could use a few more. Religion Facts suggests that Mormons also recognize April 6th (anniversary of formal organization of the Church) and May 15th (day that the Aaronic Priesthood was restored by John the Baptist), but we haven’t managed to make them holidays, at least not yet.

I think there are a few more we might consider adopting or creating. We celebrate anniversaries regularly, although they don’t quite reach the status of holidays. I’ve seen the founding of the Relief Society recognized, as well as the founding of the Primary. Other anniversaries that might work include the first overseas missionary journey (to England in 1837, because it had a huge effect on the Church), and some of better-known events in Church history. We may even get to the point that we can celebrate or commemorate recent or controversial events, such as the manifesto on polygamy or the 1978 proclamation on the priesthood.
Other events that might be commemorated, such as the “miracle of the gulls,” don’t have known specific dates, so commemorating their anniversary is difficult. Holidays sometimes also commemorate ideas or roles, such as Mother’s Day or Grandparent’s Day. Perhaps we should celebrate Prophet’s Day or Bishop’s Day. It seems to me Mormons would do well promoting a Service Day, and making it a religious holiday, since we already make service such a large part of our efforts.

Another way that we might increase the number of Mormon holidays is by borrowing holidays from others. Friends of our family have done this with the Protestant Advent celebration, lighting candles on each of the four Sundays before Christmas, and reading on each of those days a passage from one of the four standard works concerning the coming of Christ.

I’m sure there is a wealth of possible holidays that Mormonism might celebrate. And I think it entirely possible and appropriate for groups of Church members to take on the responsibility of choosing and promoting these holidays. Private groups have increasingly introduced and promoted holidays in recent years, and Commercial groups have not only taken a large part in promoting holidays in their best interest (Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day, Mother’s Day, etc.), but have also launched more than a few. Even Thanksgiving, perhaps one of the less commercial holidays in the UStoday, was started by private interests. [Mostly through magazine articles promoting the holiday in the late 1800s.]
I should note, in closing, that one of the possible Mormon holidays does coincide with the December holiday season. December 21st is Joseph Smith’s birthday. So my daughter should probably revise her name for the holiday season to RamaChristmaHanaKwanzaSmith Day!

14 comments: “Celebrate RamaChristmaHanaKwanzaSmith Day!!

  1. Mahonri

    Interesting.
    But isn’t the 23 Joseph Smith’s birthday? Not to nit pick or anything. The hard thing with Joseph’s birthday is that it’s so close to Christmas.

  2. C. L. Hanson

    The Mormons should hardly feel bad for just adopting Christmas and Easter from the mainline Christians considering that the Christians merely adapted those two from existing Pagan traditions.

    Given “Pioneer Day,” the Mormons are actually one up on the mainline Protestants in terms of creating an original holiday tradition.

  3. Tanya Spackman

    Outside of Utah, [Pioneer Day] isn’t a day off of work, and we Mormons generally don’t tell our employers that it is a religious holiday we should get off.

    Inside Utah it usually isn’t a day off work, either. Only state employees and bank employees get it off (when I was in high school I worked for the local school district and got 24 July off; that’s the only job I’ve ever had that observed that holiday). So it’s really not even much of a holiday in Utah. If I were to ask for it off as a religious holiday, I’d be laughed out the boss’ office.

    That said, I wouldn’t mind if it became more of a real holiday. I agree that we need more significant observances within our religion.

  4. Katie P.

    I like that we don’t have holidays. I like that you can be fully Mormon and stil celebrate whatever culture you find yourself. I think communal holidays would clutter up the gospel and the church with even more culture that is fun but not essential or doctrinal.

  5. Kent Larsen Post author

    Good point, Katie.

    I agree that not having holidays does free us a to celebrate whatever culture we find ourselves in.

    But I do think we need one or two holidays — something to set us apart. Part of the reason I disagree with your point is that for those of us outside of Utah and the Intermountain West, it seems like we have nearly no culture at all!

    My (perhaps unstated) premise is that Mormon culture needs to be strengthened, and that Mormon culture is an important way to strengthen members of the Church. So I guess I disagree that holidays would “clutter up” the gospel or that Mormon culture could not be “essential” or “doctrinal.”

  6. Katie P.

    Hhmm…I think I may disagree with the idea that things like identity and culture need to come from the church. I think there are many things that human beings need in order to be happy, but the Mormondom doesn’t need to provide all of them. I’m a big fan of traditions and social rituals and all of those things, but I like drawing a distinction between the things I do because I’m a member of my family and an American and a Texan and the things I do because of my religion.

  7. Kent Larsen Post author

    Katie, you are reading something into what I say that isn’t there. I never said that “identity and culture need to come from the church.” I don’t think that the Church needs to promote culture (although it can’t help but do so and does so regularly).

    I AM saying that culture is important and that we, members of the Church, need a Mormon culture, one that helps us understand and appreciate the gospel, as well as become more connected with each other.

    I’ll have to write a new post at some time on this issue — why we need a Mormon culture. Just let me observe that there is a significant difference between activity rates in Utah, where there is a sort of Mormon culture, and outside Utah, and, worst of all, most international areas, where there is little or no Mormon culture available.

    I won’t argue for members that remain so merely because of Mormon culture. But I’m certain that even for the most doctrinally-oriented members, culture helps maintain and strengthen faith. Like it or not, we do need a Mormon culture.

  8. Katie P.

    I don’t agree, but I look forward to reading your post on the subject. :)

  9. Ardis Parshall

    Kent, I look forward to your post on the benefits of a Mormon culture. I expect I’ll agree.

    Using Katie’s reference to “things I do because I’m an American” as a starting point:

    We vote, pay taxes, and serve on juries because we’re Americans; we attend worship meetings, pay tithing, and serve in local callings because we’re Mormons. Those might be examples of “doctrine” in both cases — the basic outward requirements of being active participants in those organizations.

    Less visible, inward commitments to country (“patriotism,” however you want to define it personally) are analogous to inward commitments to church (“testimony,” however you want to define it), and both types of commitments, if sincere, lead to other actions (not littering for Americanism, exercising patience with difficult neighbors for Mormonism, perhaps).

    Both worlds furnish opportunities for cheesy entrepreneurs: made-in-China paper flags, Uncle Sam’s picture on ads for furniture sales, support-our-troops magnets for car trunks; and CTR rings on adults, Moroni action figures, and Temple Square shot glasses in Utah gift shops.

    But somewhere between the formal requirements for membership, the inward personal commitment, and the kitsch, lies something else — culture. For America, we have poetry and literature that we all recognize, fireworks, patriotic songs, the Pledge of Allegiance, bunting, civic holidays, rising to our feet in the presence of the flag or marching soldiers or other symbols deserving respect.

    What do we have for Mormon culture? Some cherished hymns, rising in respect when the church president enters a room, and — ?

    That’s what I hope Kent will expand on, and what I hope people like Katie might think about supporting, in addition to all the things we each do because we’re also members of other groups.

  10. Katie P.

    I do not oppose the traditions because I don’t see their value. I think lots of things are valuable and necessary that shouldn’t be packaged with the scriptures and General Conference. Tying in traditions and holidays to Mormondom would be adding to the list of things someone must accept (or at least be comfortable with) in order to be fully Mormon, and I am uncomfortable with adding things to the list that aren’t actually doctrinal.

  11. JKS

    We have SO much that sets us apart. We don’t need a few days a year to do it.
    We have FHE EVERY week. We have 3 hours of church EVERY Sunday. We have general conferance twice a year. We have Fast & Testimony meetings once a month. We have temple worship.
    Besides all of these “rituals” that happen every week, or every month, or twice a year, we also have other doctrinal things that set us apart.
    We have an additional set of scriptures.
    We have a Word of Wisdom.
    We have strict moral codes.
    A “holiday” once, or a few times a year, is nice for someone who is not connected to their religion on a weekly, daily, or hourly basis.
    A previous bloggernacle post commented about how other religions have better Christmas programs than Mormons do. Maybe because they have to pack it all in to just Christmas Mass and Easter Mass. We do it every Sunday. We worship EVERY Sunday. (We also DO have Christmas choir performances, Christmas parties, or other activities/performances organized locally).

  12. CBiden

    Just passing by and was astounded to read JKS’ remark that Catholics (I presume it was to them he was referring) just worship on Christmas and Easter. In fact, we have “worship” or rather Mass, every day, although most observant Catholics mostly attend on Sundays. Those days are certainly significant as they commorate the Incarnation and the Resurrection, but our most sacred rites are celebrated every day of the year. It is true that these Masses are often crowded because many cultural Catholics attend only on these days or because, as our priest stated on Christmas, they come out of love and respect for family and friends, but it’s not because we “pack it all in” at Christmas and Easter.

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