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Experiencing Christmas at LDS Church sites in Palmrya

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LDS Church History sites that dot the eastern half of the United States all prepare for Christmas with lights, Nativity displays and other decorations. This week Mormon Times highlights Christmas at LDS Church historic sites from Sharon, Vt., to Nauvoo, Ill.

PALMYRA, N.Y. — When she looks out the windows of the frame home located on the Joseph Smith farm in upstate New York and sees the snow during the holiday season, Sister Kristin Egan sometimes feels like she's a member of the Smith family.

"I think of how they must have decorated their house and how they were excited about the festivities," the sister missionary said, "and how they must have bonded during this time, especially since they wouldn't have wanted to go outside."

Egan and her companion, Sister Stephanie Smoot, are serving at the LDS Church's historic sites during a time when many people boldly decorate their homes with lights, plastic snowmen, Santas and Nativity scenes. But the homes where these missionaries spend their days are decorated with simple raffia, bows, electric candles, garland, brown paper packages and wooden toys.

"The season definitely enhances the Spirit and brings in that seasonal feeling of the Savior and his birth," said Elder Steven Watts, of Portland, Ore. "Everyone who comes here thinks about that, and feels that, and hopefully sees some of it."

It's a plain-and-simple Christmas in the cradle of where the restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took place. It is a place where the work is always Christ-centered, and the Christmas decorations are simple, setting the stage and creating an atmosphere where missionaries can bear their testimonies of Jesus Christ.

"As a missionary, (the decor) reminds us what the season's all about," said Sister Marylin Shumway, of Hurricane, Utah. "Sometimes as missionaries, you think of your family. This kind of gets you in the mood and helps you know this is where you're supposed to be. Christmas takes on a whole different meaning when you focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's where we find true joy."

Aside from the traditional decorations, visitors are invited to Christmas at the Smith Farm on Dec. 20 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. There, visitors will enjoy the lights and a walk, caroling from the Smith family's original log home to the frame home, ending at the Smith barn for hot chocolate and cookies.

Also, the Hill Cumorah Visitors' Center and other LDS Church sites in the Palmyra and Fayette, N.Y., are are open on Christmas Day from noon to 6 p.m., while the Grandin Building and the Smith and Whitmer homes are open until 5 p.m.

Stephen Lenker, director of the Hill Cumorah Visitors' Center, said on a day devoted to Jesus Christ, why not open locations with Christ-centered missions?

"Everything we do here is Christ-centered," he said. "From the Christus statue, to the displays, to the Book of Mormon — everything is about Christ. A lot of people have the sentiment that we've gotten away from the real meaning of Christmas — that it's about buying and giving presents. Maybe there is a need to refocus on the real meaning of Christmas, which is Jesus Christ. By coming to the historic sites, visitors are able to fill that need, that desire."

Lenker is hoping local Mormons and their out-of-town guests will take the opportunity to recharge their spiritual batteries by coming to the New York sites during the holidays where the Spirit pours forth in seasonal abundance.

"We hope someone will come in so we can bear those testimonies," said Shumway.

For information on New York's historic sites, visit www.hillcumorah.org.

Amanda Lonsberry is the media relations representative on the Cumorah Region Public Affairs Council.