OREM — The holidays won't be the same this year at the Nelson home.
Sister Dantzel Nelson, the wife of Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died Feb. 12 at the family's Salt Lake City home.
"Sister Nelson and I enjoyed many happy holidays through the years," Elder Nelson said Friday at the Orem Institute of Religion on the campus of Utah Valley State College.
"(In February), Sister Nelson was called away from me," he said. "This will be our family's first Thanksgiving and Christmas without her physical presence. It just won't be the same. We miss her so very, very much."
An estimated 3,500 people — most of them students and their families or friends — attended the noon devotional to hear Elder Nelson speak for about 25 minutes on the humble nature of Jesus Christ's birth and the importance of that event.
"We live in thanksgiving daily for him whose birth we celebrate at Christmastime," he said.
Elder Nelson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve for the past 21 years, also shared some of his family's holiday traditions.
"On our mantel over the fireplace at Christmastime, we display a small photograph of each member of the family," he said. "With 10 children and their spouses and 56 grandchildren, that's a lot of photos. We've been doing this so long that most of the pictures are out of date."
The children scramble to find their pictures above the mantel, Elder Nelson said, and they also take time to admire the large assortment of Christmas dolls Sister Nelson collected from around the world.
Another tradition, he said, is reading the Christmas story from the Scriptures.
"This year more than ever before, our focus will be on the Savior," Elder Nelson said. "His atonement means even more to us now. He provides the connecting link between her life and ours. Because of him, we can and will be together forever."
The trek Mary and Joseph made from Nazareth to the City of David was a difficult one, he said, and about as far as traveling from Salt Lake City to Nephi. And they arrived to find there were no guest chambers available.
"In those days, an Asian inn was not like a Holiday Inn or a Bethlehem Marriott," Elder Nelson said.
The inns provided accommodations for traveling caravans, which included animals and people, he said. Animals were secured for the night in the courtyards, where their owners could watch over them.
"Because the guest chambers around the courtyard were filled, Joseph possibly made the decision to care for Mary's delivery in the courtyard in this caravansary, among the animals," Elder Nelson said. "There, in that lowly circumstance, the Lamb of God was born."
Christ's life, death and resurrection also should be remembered at Christmastime, he said.
"Jesus the Christ was born to die," Elder Nelson said. "He died that we might live again. He was born that all humankind could live beyond the grave."
And that's something Elder Nelson said he and his family won't forget this holiday season.