Those of us that celebrate Christmas have been accused of focusing more on the material than the spiritual. Images of people trampling others at Black Friday sales come to mind. Fortunately, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we understand that this is a season of giving true gifts rather than material gifts, of focusing on others rather than on ourselves, and of acting as Christ would act as he gave His gifts.
Sing-alongs and service are favorite traditions as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints across Arizona join in family, neighborhood, ward and stake activities to celebrate the Christmas season and to put the Savior in the forefront of their celebrations.
The Arizona Mesa Mission will host the 2018 Light the World Christmas Concert Series with concerts at the Mesa Inter-Stake Center, 830 East 2nd Avenue. The Sunday-night concerts begin at 7 p.m. and will feature the Mann Family on December 9, the Solomon Family December 16 and the Mesa East Stake choir December 23.
One musical event that has become a “must-see” for many during the Christmas season is the Voices of Christmas Choir and Orchestra Concert, hosted by the Mesa South, Lehi and Tempe stakes.
Voices of Christmas began in 2004 in the Lehi YSA 4th Ward as a way “to provide an opportunity for young single adults to further their talents and provide a high-quality, Christ-filled Christmas event,” says founder, Ted Sowards. “We felt it was particularly important to fill the community with Christ during this time of year.”
Voices of Christmas has grown from the initial 16 performers to more than 200 participants each year, and is now a multi-stake, “community staple,” says Sowards. The concert includes “a full orchestra and jumbo screens with live video, animated stories and more.”
Sowards and George Master are the event leaders. The directors are Dr. Mike Wilson and Jennifer Jerrett.
The event is free, with the intent that “if you are rich or poor, educated or not, spiritual or investigating, everyone has an equal chance to feel the real spirit of Christ.”
The 15th annual Voices of Christmas concert is themed “What Shall We Give?” and will be Friday and Saturday, December 21st and 22nd, at the Mesa Inter-stake Center, 830 E 2nd Avenue. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the concert begins at 7:30. Saturday’s concert will also be broadcast live online at AZLDS.org.
Also focusing on the season’s sacred music, the Chandler East Stake will hold a musical fireside Sunday, December 9th, at 7 p.m. at the stake center, 21226 South Greenfield Road, Gilbert.
Several stakes across the Valley will host performances and sing-alongs with music from Handel’s Messiah. Each event features orchestra and solo performances and choral sing-along parts. Each is free and open to anyone who wants to join in the singing or who simply wants to listen. At each sing-along, a limited number of vocal scores will be available to borrow, though individuals are encouraged to bring their own score.
The Mesa Citrus Heights Stake is hosting its annual sing-along at 7 p.m. on Sunday, December 9th, at the Citrus Heights Stake Center, 2549 N 32nd Street in Mesa.
The Messiah sing-along sponsored by Tempe South Stake will be at 7 p.m. Sunday, December 23rd, at the stake center at 111 Knox Road in Tempe. The stake music chair is Sarah Rogan and the sing-along director is Aimee Stewart.
The Stapley Stake will combine with the Gilbert First United Methodist Church for its annual sing-along at 7 p.m. December 23rd at the Church building at 1100 N. Cooper Road in Gilbert.
Other area churches have also been invited to participate, says event chair Robert Wright. “We’ve been doing this for many years. It’s a wonderful tradition we love to continue to share with the community.”
Live nativities and nativity displays have also become tradition in several stakes.
The 5th annual Ahwatukee Community Holiday Concert and Live Nativity, sponsored by the Foothills and Lakewood wards in the Tempe West Stake, will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, December 8th, at the Church building at 2955 East Frye Road (next to Desert Vista High School). Choirs from local schools, including Desert Vista High School, Alta Dena Middle School, Akimel Middle School, Cerritos and Millenio Elementary, as well as other local choirs, will perform, says event chair, Lindsey Worthen. “The choirs are free to sing anything holiday related. It doesn’t need to be Christmas alone. Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc., are all part of the music.”
“In addition to the choirs, this casual come-and-go event offers a creche exhibit, a beautiful live nativity with live animals, a nativity puppet show for children and cookies and hot cocoa for all.” This event is free and open to the public.
Many individuals, families and ward groups are also looking to fill the season with service, participating in various projects designed to minister to others throughout the community and to share testimony of the Savior.
“Last year I started a ‘Light the Block’ night as part of the Church’s Light the World campaign and invited all the people in our ward neighborhood to decorate their houses and, on one designated night, we all went outside and walked the neighborhood together,” says Kori Littler, of the Ashcreek Ward, Queen Creek North Stake.
“Some families had cookies and hot cocoa, some went caroling, others set up live nativity scenes in their front yards,” Littler says. “I set up a Christmas karaoke station at my house. It was a fun way to get all the neighbors out and sharing their Christmas traditions. I did leave it open so that those celebrating Hanukkah or other season cultural holidays could display something reflective of their faiths as well.”
She continues, “This year I am stealing the idea of one of the grandmas in the ward and holding a neighborhood family home evening. All my immediate neighbors (some members and some not) will be invited to come over and contribute to a potluck dinner. Each family will be invited to bring their Bibles and we will read the nativity story and let the kids dress up and act it out.”
Every year for the past 11 years, Linda Hartmann, has mixed music and service for a unique offering at Mesa’s main post office. She schedules “vocalists, harpists, ensembles, duets, trios, quartets, pianists, flutists, a cappella groups, children’s groups, violin/piano duets” and others to perform in half-hour to two-hour segments, so post office patrons can enjoy holiday music free of charge while waiting in line.
“Cheerful music adds to the spirit of Christmas and lightens the spirits of those waiting,” Hartmann says. Music is performed December 1st through 22nd from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at the post office at 135 N. Center Street, Mesa. Anyone interested in performing can contact Linda Hartmann at LindaKay678@gmail.com or call 480-844-9328.
JC Scholarly, a nonprofit organization founded by Linda Jaussi of the Moon Valley Stake, will sing at Caveman Burgers, 430 E. Bell Road in Phoenix, each Friday evening in December. JC Scholarly, which “uses music and science to help young people find peaceful solutions to difficult problems,” hosts competitions every year and multiple festivals. Caveman Burgers will hold a food drive in conjunction with the music presentations.
To find a variety of other immediate service opportunities and ongoing projects for your family or group, visit justserve.org.
Visit the Arizona Beehive calendar and Facebook page for updates or to post an event of interest to individuals and families.