Christmas lights

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COVID-19 forces Utah churches to get creative with Christmas celebrations

By Lauren Bennett, | Posted - Dec. 15, 2020 at 4:45 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — As the pandemic stretches into its ninth month in Utah, creating a cloud over a typically joyous holiday season, several area Christian churches are hoping to celebrate and still highlight Christlike love amid altered plans.

Here's a look into how a few local congregations in the area plan to celebrate Christmas this year.

Calvary Baptist Church

In a typical year, the Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City would host a Christmas musical or something of that nature, according to The Rev. Oscar Moses.

But, 2020 is no typical year.

Instead of hosting a large in-person celebration, the church is pivoting to focus on serving the community. A Christmas Day worship service will also be held.

"One of the things I've tried to do to keep the church community connected is to keep them connected with people that are in need," he said.

After briefly opening to in-person services the church moved to virtual worship only in response to Utah's rising COVID-19 cases.

The Rev. Moses is encouraging congregants to create new traditions during this unprecedented time and above all remember who they are celebrating: Jesus Christ.

"We still have to keep our focus clear and keep the main thing that this season is lifting up Jesus Christ," he said.

To help give back to the community and keep church congregants connected, the church also organized a service project trying to help families in need.

"We're trying to reach families that are in need and we could, you know, help them either monetarily or some type of clothing or toys or something like that," The Rev. Moses said.

To bring those resources to families, the church has coordinated the efforts with other ministries to get resources together that will go to families in need.

The congregation, especially in a pandemic and with online services, still wants to help spread Christlike joy and service, he explained.

"The Christmas season, or even just in life in general … it's about hope, and hope is the defiant resistance against the trials and tribulations in life, and believing that there is a power beyond our power that's in control," The Rev. Moses said.

In a time that usually brings joy for most, many are feeling the impact of the global pandemic. The Rev Moses offered some advice to those struggling: "My plea is for the people to hold on to hope. And that hope is the great expectation that even despite what we might be going through that God has something in store for us that will bring us to a victorious hand."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint ward in Orem

For the 4th Ward in the Sharon Park Stake in Orem, the celebrations have mainly moved online.

Typically, the ward hosts a giving tree service project where a crafted tree is placed in the foyer of the building with tags attached to its branches of things needed by members.

Another member would take a tag off and purchase that item. This year, the project has been virtual, according to Bishop Karl Jackson, who leads the congregation.

Finding ways to keep members connected and involved this Christmas season has been important to the local leader, who said the ward is "dynamic," and individuals move in and out of the area frequently.

"So it makes it hard for people to get to know each other, especially with COVID, that you don't really get out and visit," he said.

"It's created challenges and opportunities on how our ward can be more unified and come together because we can't meet physically together and so there's the challenges of how do we maintain the sociality of the ward," he continued.

Aside from the giving tree service project, the ward will also be hosting its annual Christmas party virtually.

It will be a talent show of sorts where members can perform songs and share Christmas stories, Bishop Jackson explained.

Having a party online can help encourage more people to attend, he hoped, since it can accommodate more schedules and they can participate from the comfort of their own home.

Plus, those performing can submit a prerecorded video for their performance to help take some of the pressure off a live performance if they feel more comfortable with that.

The ward has been holding limited in-person Sunday worship services since the church allowed in-person meetings to resume. A streaming option is also available to members.

"There's no pressure of meeting in person because we realize that different people have different concerns," Bishop Jackson said.

On the Sunday before Christmas, the ward will have solo artists sing at the service, since large choirs can be considered high risk for creating droplets and inadvertently spreading the novel coronavirus.

"Christmas music is so important. I felt that we needed to have some kind of music there," he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on Utahns, leading Bishop Jackson to emphasize a special focus on service.

"Another thing that we're doing this year, more services, realizing that there's people that are more isolated this time of year and possibly feeling lonely," he said.

To help include those who might be struggling, the ward used some of its budget (with canceled activities, they had quite a bit left over) to do a 12 Days of Christmas service project.

Using the ward budget, families can get materials to give something Christ-centered to uplift other families who may be feeling more lonely and in need of comfort, Bishop Jackson explained.

Other wards in the stake have been creative spreading holiday cheer amid COVID-19 as well, according to Stake President Dan Miller. One ward held a drive-by Christmas party and another printed and delivered a cookbook to each person living inside that ward's boundaries.

While there have been challenges in adjusting plans, Bishop Jackson ultimately sees it as an opportunity for congregants to find new ways to focus on Jesus Christ and remember what the holiday is all about.

"I think that doing some of the things for virtually has kind of provided more of an opportunity to focus on the Savior," he said. "Saying what ways can you create new traditions that might help bring the Savior more into focus instead of the parties and worldly things."

The Cathedral of the Madeleine

The Cathedral of the Madeleine, which serves members of the Roman Catholic Church in Salt Lake City, is planning on hosting its usual Christmas services but with COVID-19 precautions in place.

At a typical Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Mass, it would be standing room only for participants, according to The Very Rev. Martin Diaz, who serves as rector.

However, in order to keep patrons safe and prevent spreading the novel coronavirus, the cathedral has instead set up a reservation system online for people to sign up to attend — something they've never done before.

They will still accept walk-ins but can only accept so many total congregants since they are operating on a limited capacity.

Similar to the Utah ski resorts' COVID-19 rules, if you drive together, you can sit in a pew together.

The Very Rev. Diaz hopes they don't have to turn people away, but it's hard to predict what that day will look like.

Ultimately, he hopes everyone is able to celebrate the holiday and Jesus Christ — whether it's in person or via watching the service online.

All of the cathedral's services will be posted to its YouTube page.

The Catholic Church has long celebrated the traditional Midnight Mass, which starts at midnight on Christmas Eve and goes into the early morning of Christmas Day.

While many still refer to the Christmas Eve evening Mass as Midnight Mass, it has been celebrated earlier than midnight for several years, The Very Rev. Diaz explained.

This year, Pope Francis is holding the Vatican's evening Mass at 7:30 p.m. to remain in compliance with Italy's 10 p.m. curfew.

The Cathedral of the Madeleine is holding its nighttime Mass at 10 p.m.

"This change has been in effect for a number of years, but we've never moved away from Midnight Mass just because it's so traditional," The Very Rev. Diaz said. "But with the pandemic, we thought okay, we're going to use this as our excuse."

Even with pews sectioned off, the cathedral can still house up to a few hundred individuals, depending on how many attend with others in their household or attend alone.

Those attending alone will have an entire pew to themselves to maintain social distancing between groups — meaning the more attending alone, the less overall space to seat others there will be.

"Nobody knows whether we're going to be turning people away, or have just enough (room) or if people will say, 'I'm not coming out,'" The Very Rev. Diaz said.

The cathedral has also put up its annual Christmas lights on the plaza and encourages people to come enjoy them as well.

Multiple choirs will also perform, while distanced, to celebrate Christmas. The annual Christmas Carol service would usually take place this week, but is instead being recorded to go on YouTube later this week.

"We're trying to do some of the same stuff but trying to do it where people can see it virtually," The Very Rev. Diaz said.

In all, the cathedral hopes to "really celebrate as big as we can," while still taking all the proper health precautions.

Editor's Note: Deseret Digital Media, Inc., the operator of, is a subsidiary of Deseret Management Corporation, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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