As a missionary, I was blessed to celebrate two Christmas seasons in the field. Recently, I’ve been thinking back on those two holidays, and how significant each of them have been to me, especially as I celebrate Christmas with family this year. My two mission Christmases taught me more about the true meaning of Christmas than any prior holidays I had growing up, because for the first time, I was truly on my own and it came down to me and the Savior. Each Christmas was so different from the other, and it’s looking back that I see how powerful the two were in helping me understand what Christmas is really about.
My first Christmas in the field (2013) was everything I could have hoped. We spent Christmas eve with two families in the ward, were filled to the brim with good food and some serious love. I ate the first slice of ham I’ve enjoyed in my life (that’s a Christmas miracle for you!), enjoyed the warmth and love of the homes we were in, and had a great deal of fun with those we spent time with. On Christmas day, we spent the afternoon with Bishop and Sister Payne, eating dinner, making cookies, and enjoying the day. I was bowled over by the warmth and generosity of these families who welcomed us (and our elders) into their homes for the holiday.
That transfer was my third in the field – I had been a full-time missionary for just over 5 months. We were working as hard as we could, but weren’t seeing a huge amount of success in the area. But the love of the members made up for the frustration and the struggles we were facing. They went above and beyond in showering us with love and support, which made all the difference.
Our district was pretty young – none of us had been out for a Christmas before. There were four sisters in the district, and we had set out to do something special for our elders for district meeting, which was going to be held on Christmas morning. We got up early, made German pancakes and with buttermilk syrup and berries, made a huge pot of hot chocolate, and got to work. We rearranged the furniture so that we all had spots in the foyer around the Christmas tree in the Reseda building, rolled the piano in, and stuck gift bags of cookies for each elder under the tree. I just remember the joy of getting everything ready, listening to Christmas hymns and excitedly waiting for them to arrive. I called home and talked to my family before district meeting – the first time since I had left for the MTC in August.
One of my fondest memories from that day was sitting on the floor,
leaning against the wall in the foyer beside Elder Sharp, with a styrofoam plate of food and just looking at the faces of my fellow missionaries. Elder Sautia over on the piano bench (he has every Christmas song ever memorized, I swear), the zone leaders squashed on the couch with the elders in our ward, the sisters in chairs beside me, more elders draped over furniture and sitting on the floor. Our district meeting was informal – we talked about the Savior and charity and why we were serving. An elder suggested we put this all into practice and bring a plate of food to the homeless sister outside, so we fixed her up a plate and brought it to her, and sang to her. It was this moment of overwhelming love for me – love for this stranger, for the elders and sisters I served with, but most of all, for the Savior.
The holiday was one of joy and unity and brightness. I was surrounded bypeople that I had come to love deeply as I served, and was able to do something I loved – share the good news of the Savior. What better time is there to proclaim the Gospel than Christmas? (though we should be sharing it all year) People’s hearts are softened, kindness abounds, and the Spirit is innately strong as people focus on their friends and families during the holiday season.
Sure, it can be hard to be away from home as a missionary during the holidays. You can’t help but think of your family back home, what they’re doing, the holiday traditions you’re missing. But there comes a point when your focus shifts entirely from you to the Savior during the Christmas(es) you spend with a badge pinned over your heart. My first Christmas, it was in that moment of sitting against the wall in the Reseda foyer, listening to my friends bear their testimonies.
My second Christmas in the field was entirely different for me. We had the opportunity to have dinner with two families I love dearly on Christmas eve and Christmas day, and to play secret Santa with the elders for another family in the ward. Earlier in the week, we had swapped small gifts with our district (the elders spoiled Sister Cox and I, for sure, as the only sisters in the North Hollywood district). Leading up to the holiday, we had been blessed to help a family decorate and set up their tree, play secret Santa elves for another family, had a blast at the ward Christmas party, and we were thrilled to be using the Christmas initiative from the Church, “He is the Gift,” in full force. We watched it with families in their homes, handed out pass along cards in the street, and emailed home about it.
Christmas is about joy. The joy that comes from the greatest of all gifts – the gift of Jesus Christ that brings about so many more gifts: peace, forgiveness, comfort, hope, love, charity… it is about every good thing that brings us closer to our Father in Heaven. It’s about giving up the things that are holding us back from being more like Him. It’s about the love of the Lord that radiates through the love that we have for each other. It’s about becoming more, about doing more, about being more. It’s about change, about hope, about redemption.
I’m especially thankful for this Christmas at home for the first time in two years because of what the last two taught me. They brought home the reality of that night in Bethlehem, the journey that led from the cradle to the garden to the cross. The night that changed the world, that changed. My first Christmas was about the joy of His birth. My second Christmas was about what it meant to me. This Christmas is so much richer because of the past two years.
PS – check out christmas.mormon.org if you haven’t already!!