"The perfect way to spend Christmas," was how one visitor to Temple Square described hearing the Tabernacle Choir on Sunday morning, Dec. 25.
The estimated 3,500 people who attended the Tabernacle Choir's weekly network broadcast of "Music and the Spoken Word" observed Christmas in a most memorable fashion. The last time the choir's broadcast coincided with Christmas day was 1988. The next time will be in the year 2005."We're music lovers. What better day is there to hear the Tabernacle Choir than on Christmas?" said Terrill Lewis of the Snohomish (Wash.) 2nd Ward, who attended the choir's broadcast Christmas morning with his wife, Lynette, and relatives Paul and Karen Cohen of Los Angeles.
The broadcast was a visual treat as well as a true musical delight. The Church's Physical Facilities Department decorated the interior of the Tabernacle with 20 tall evergreen trees adorned with different colored lights. Dozens of small trees and about a dozen tall aspens were covered with white lights. Hundreds of pink, white and red poinsettias grown in the Church's greenhouse from California cuttings were placed on the stage area and around the choir loft. Thirty 7-foot-long boughs or swags hung from the Tabernacle's balconies. The swags were connected with 200-foot-long evergreen ropes.
Choir Pres. Wendell M. Smoot said choir members look forward to the Christmases that fall on Sunday. "This is the day we celebrate the birth of our Savior," he said. "What better day is there to sing of Him than Christmas? What better time is there to worship Him in song?
"We see it as a great opportunity, a privilege, to be here in the Tabernacle on Christmas morning.
"The choir members come willingly on every Sunday, including Christmas. We invited families of choir members to come this Christmas. This time in the Tabernacle is an opportunity to step away from the toys and commercialism of the season and to contemplate the real meaning of Christmas."
Choir director Jerold Ottley and associate director Donald Ripplinger took turns conducting. Tabernacle organists John Longhurst, Clay Christiansen and Richard Elliott accompanied the choir. The "Spoken Word" was by Lloyd Newell.
Choir member Carol Mahlum brought her daughter, Cami, age 10, with her to the broadcast. Remaining at home in Orem, Utah, were Sister Mahlum's husband, Steven, and four other children, ages 1-13. The family read the Christmas story from the book of Luke on Christmas Eve and opened one present. Everything else waited until she and Cami returned from the broadcast.
In a telephone conversation on Dec. 26, Sister Mahlum said the anticipation that came with waiting made Christmas more special. "I wish my whole family could have been at the broadcast because everything in the Tabernacle gave me a stronger, more emotional feeling for Christmas," she said. "The decorations were beautiful, and the spirit of the choir was almost tangible."
Dennis Beuhner became a member of the Tabernacle Choir last May. "I hadn't thought much about Christmas being on Sunday until Lloyd Newell made some introductory comments to the audience before the broadcast began," he said.
"This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. It was nothing other than a thrilling event. This is what Christmas is. It's not the decorations or the lights on the house. It's the touching of the soul. I've learned that the best way to touch the soul is with music. This was a very special Christmas for me."
Husband and wife, Charles and Kathy Sorensen have been members of the Tabernacle Choir for 61/2 years. "This was the second time we've been able to sing with the choir on Christmas day," Brother Sorensen said. He said singing on Christmas helped "work up to the finale of what Christmas is really about. The glow lasted all day."
He said some friends in the audience told him they sat next to a group from Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas, who had come to Salt Lake City especially to hear the choir sing on Christmas day. "Apparently, this group has been coming every year during the holidays; they were thrilled that Christmas came on Sunday this year," Brother Sorensen said.
Analee Wiser, who has been a member of the choir a little more than a year, brought her husband, Lorin; son, Josh, 18; and daughter, Julie, 12, to the broadcast. "There were a couple of points where I had to gear myself to not break down," Sister Wiser said. "It was overwhemming and exciting to be part of singing, not only for those in the Tabernacle but also for those who might hear the broadcast on radio or television. For me, this was a very special Christmas, probably more special than any other."
Choir member Jane Fjeldsted said: "We have four children, ages 7-13. In family home evening several weeks ago, we talked about Christmas being on Sunday and that I would be singing in the broadcast. Our sacrament meeting would be held at noon, instead of the usual time.
"One of the kids said, `Why don't we go to the broadcast, come home and have breakfast while we're still dressed up, and then go to sacrament meeting? After Church, we can come home, change into our pajamas and pretend it's Christmas morning.' That's what we did. Everything turned out really well. Our youngest said, `Christmas isn't really about presents. It's about Jesus being born. He was the present.' "
In narrating the broadcast Christmas morning, Brother Newell said: "Hearkening back to the `good tidings of great joy' given to shepherds `abiding in the field,' the message of joy is the message of Christmas. Not to be confused with happiness nor substituted with pleasure, real joy is the promise born of Bethlehem." Pleasure and happiness, he noted, are fleeting; joy is lasting.
Charles and Mary Byrne of Middletown, N.J., had been in Utah on vacation with their son, D.J. Byrne, of Pasadena, Calif. They stayed over an extra day especially to attend the choir's broadcast.
"I won't say it was a pleasure hear the Tabernacle Choir sing on Christmas day," Mr. Byrne said. He paused for dramatic effect and then added, "It was a joy!"