In 1988, I was called to serve as a counselor in a bishopric for the first time. My remarkable bishop taught two principles that I have never forgotten.
First, Jesus is the Christ. Every day of our lives, we must reflect his love, his mercy, his sacrifice, and especially his Atoning gift that he gave to us all by our actions and service to others.
Second, charity. This bishop believed in always showing love for our fellow man through giving ourselves in unconditional service to others. Serving the people of our ward was a top priority, so I was not surprised by the idea this bishop had for our first Christmas as a bishopric.
In October, just a few months after we had been called to serve, the bishop wanted to bring these two principles to the people of our ward through a Christmas gift. The main purpose of one meeting was to think of specific ways we could serve the members of the ward and teach them of Christ. Since our first Christmas as a bishopric was only a few months away, the bishop wanted us to conceive a gift that we could give to the members of our ward to help them focus on the Savior during the Christmas season. He asked us to go home and pray for inspiration for ideas on what we could do.
In my prayers, I remembered a family I had visited many years back who had a Christmas tradition that involved a small set of wrapped blocks placed around a tree. At the time, I was unable to see what was written on the blocks because they were all wrapped up as Christmas presents under the tree. The family told me that each block was a gift Savior, complete with verses of scripture that told of each gift. This was my answer to prayer.
At the next meeting when Bishop asked for our ideas, I shared my thoughts. He answered, “Exactly. Make this happen. This is what God wants us to do, and you need to put this together.”
I took this assignment with both joy and humility. I was not a woodworker, nor did I have many talents in this area, but I knew this needed to be done. I spent the next several weeks searching the scriptures for specific gifts from God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. When I thought of each new gift, I searched and prayed for the best scriptures to confirm my thoughts. I finally had my list of 10 gifts and 3 scriptures for each.
For many weeks after that, I used a jigsaw to cut out over 1,000 blocks of wood, sanded each block to smoothness, then painted the blocks several different colors. Once the paint was dry, I wrote the gift names on one side of each block and the corresponding scriptures I’d chosen on the opposite side. I made approximately 125 sets wooden trees with 10 blocks in each. To finish the gifts, I wrapped each block. All blocks in a set were wrapped in a different colorful paper, except for the special gift to be opened on Christmas Day. This one was wrapped in white paper only. The other blocks could be opened in any order, counting down the 10 days before Christmas. The work complete, we gave the gift of one set to all of the families in our ward.
It’s now many years later, but my family has continued this tradition since that first Christmas in 1988. A few years ago, we made sets for each of our 4 children and their families, adding two more gifts so the blocks would match up with the 12 days of Christmas. Our original set still exists, and we have made many more over the years for our children’s families and close friends in every place we live. It has been a great way to help us prepare for the Christmas season and help us remain focused on the true reason why we celebrate. These gifts remind us to keep Christ in Christmas.
To share the love and light that this tree has brought our family, I now share it with you. You do not have to be a woodworker to make your own set, even paper and envelopes will do. Simply use the list of gifts and matching scriptures, opening one each night for the 12 days before Christmas. Remember to mark the last one in some special way, designating it to be last. Hopefully, this will become another tradition in your family that might help you put Christ in Christmas in your own home.
2 THESS 3:16
1 COR 13:13
3 NEPHI 11:1-14
Here is how we use this tradition in our homes:
1. Set out the tree and wrapped blocks at least 2 weeks prior to Christmas Day.
2. On December 13th, pick any block except the block that is completely white to open.
3. Read the name of God’s gift along with the corresponding scriptures.
4. Take just a minute to discuss how this gift has affected you.
5. Set the block out with the other wrapped ones, to be able to see the gifts every day leading up to Christmas.
6. Continue this process until December 24th
7. On December 25th, before opening any Christmas presents, open the white block. Read the scriptures associated with this block.
8. Let each family member present have time to share a testimony of their specific blessings from God from the year.
9. Save small scraps from your favorite wrapping paper as you open presents to use for rewrapping the blocks in for the next year. Remember the one final block needs to be wrapped in white paper (the back side of most wrapping paper is white and can be used).
May this gift to you bring a spirit into your home of love, joy, and happiness with an eye single to the glory of God as it has ours. May God bless you as you start this tradition in your family. May God bless you with this new family tradition. In our family, it has helped us remember that Jesus is the Christ and is the Son of our Heavenly Father. It has also helped us remember what Christ has done for us and that we may “always remember him.”
Steve Cooper retired after 40 years with Chevron and moved to Aggieland, and was soon-after called to be a bishop. Married to his sweetheart for over 40 years, Steve is the father of four children and the grandfather of seven.