Saturday, December 9, 2017

President Harold B. Lee on fiction vs. truth in Christmas stories

President Harold B. Lee (1899-1973) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1941. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1970-1972, then as Church president from July 1972 until his passing less than 18 months later in December 1973.
"Are you mindful of your dramatizations that you discard, ... fictitious incidents in the lives of sacred characters?  How careful must we be that we do not build in the child's concept of God a sort of a Santa Claus impression of Him.  We must, rather, take the position that the Apostle Paul did to the Hebrews when he said, in essence:  'For we have not an high priest that cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmity. For he was tempted in all points, even as we are, yet he was without sin. Let us, therefore, come boldly into his throne of grace and ask for his mercy and his grace to help us in our time of need.'  (See Hebrews 4:15-16.)
"May I plead with you teachers of children that you do not make fictitious reference to the Lord and Savior of the world.  May you stay with the context of the scripture and reduce it to understandable terms in order that the full reverence for sacred things might be impressed upon you.
"This may be something of almost hearsay to some, but let me ask you, last Christmas did none of you hear the reading of 'The Littlest Angel'?  Well, I would like to plead with you, if you did have it and you have it anywhere in your files, to bury it so deep before next Christmas that you cannot find it for the performance of children next Christmas.  There, again, we are doing something for the enjoyment of the children that subtracts from sacred things."
- Harold B. Lee, "Inspirational Guidance Year Round," Primary June Conference Address, 1948; see also THBL pp. 443-444

There seems to have always been a temptation to fictionalize the Christmas story. Since the scriptural account is somewhat sparse on details and descriptions, many have managed to embellish and expand the story in ways ranging from "The Little Drummer Boy" to "The Littlest Angel." President Lee's concern is mixing the fiction with the actual story of the Savior's birth, in ways that detract from the sacredness of the events, subtly turning God into Santa Claus:

There is enough power in the true story of the Savior's birth and life to satisfy any need, including little children., if taught appropriately. The caution is to not be "doing something for the enjoyment of the children that subtracts from sacred things."

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

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