Mormons get share of Christmas cheer in UAE

The UAE is home to about 1,500 Mormons who follow scriptures from the Bible as well as their own religious texts, including the Book of Mormon.
Members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, commonly known as Mormons, celebrate Christmas in Sharjah. Victor Besa for The National.
Members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, commonly known as Mormons, celebrate Christmas in Sharjah. Victor Besa for The National.

SHARJAH // Donna Lyn Quero’s eyes began to moisten as she spoke about what her fellow Mormons had done this Christmas.

Mrs Quero has been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for nine years, but she has never experienced anything like this.

Every day, for the 12 days leading up to Christmas, gifts have been mysteriously appearing under her garage door or at her church, a large villa in Sharjah where dozens of Mormons pack into the living room for services on Fridays.

“Sometimes when I open the door the gift is there to surprise me,” said Mrs Quero, whose husband and three children are also Mormons.

On the first day, she received a fresh chicken in a bowl of pears.

“On the second day, there was a card, and when I found it, there was a note, ‘On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me two turtle doves’, and it said, ‘I can’t find turtle doves, but we love you’,” Mrs Quero said.

“I was crying. I’m just thinking, ‘12 Days of Christmas?’ Who are they, who are they, why are they doing this?”

The Quero family has recently fallen on hard times, and Mrs Quero said she believed her Mormon “brothers and sisters”, as they call each other, were behind the anonymous gift- giving.

Although the 12 days of Christmas is not a church tradition, it is not uncommon for members to band together to spread cheer through “top-secret missions to surprise people with goodies”, according to Lucia Ratliff, an American Mormon who is also a member of the Sharjah ward.

“I think that’s a big part of our religion. Well, not our religion, but the culture is … just doing things anonymously for fun,” said Mrs Ratliff, who is married with four children.

“I think every place I’ve been, there are always people doing that and it’s not an assignment from the church. It’s just how we celebrate, by doing things for people.”

There are also church activities and services leading up to Christmas.

“The biggest and best one occurs in the beginning of December, when there is a special worldwide broadcast from our church leaders [in Salt Lake City, Utah] featuring Christmas-themed talks, stories and beautiful music from the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir,” she said.

“This is always my favourite event of the year, and it really brings in the Christmas spirit.”

The UAE is home to about 1,500 Mormons, who belong to one of six congregations – two wards each in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and one ward each in Sharjah and Al Ain.

The Mormons follow scriptures from the Bible as well as their own religious texts, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price.

“I think a lot of people have a misconception about the Mormon Church – that we’re not Christian. But if you look at the official name of the church, it’s the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; we celebrate Christmas,” said Dr Robert Bateman, president of the Abu Dhabi Stake, which oversees Mormon churches in the UAE, Qatar and Oman.

“We look at Jesus Christ as the saviour of all mankind and we celebrate his birth, I would imagine, in many ways like the other Christians do.”

This year, members of the Sharjah ward decorated a large Christmas tree in the foyer, hosted a traditional Christmas dinner and organised a pageant in which the children dressed up in robes and re-enacted the nativity story from the Bible.

The Christmas service was held on December 19 and was organised by Bishop Jay Johnson and Bridget Palmer, the musical director.

“The main thing is I wanted to sing as much as possible, because there are so many Christmas songs and December is only four weeks long,” said Mrs Palmer, a married American mother of three children.

“So I just crammed in as many songs as I could for all of us to have a chance to sing.”

rpennington@thenational.ae

Published: December 26, 2014 04:00 AM

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