What was it that Mary Pratt Parrish finally discovered about Christmas when she was nine years old?
a. Santa Claus is a myth
b. Christmas was actually a holiday
c. Christ was not born on Dec. 25th
d. Come, Come, Ye Saints" is not a Christmas song
A The colorful decorations
President Brigham Young called Louisa Barnes Pratt on April 6, 1850, to go to the South Sea Islands as a missionary to women and children. She left Salt Lake City on May 7, 1850, with her four daughters and other missionaries. Some of the other missionaries took their families with them, but Louisa was the first woman set apart to fill a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They traveled five and one-half months by land, covering one thousand miles, and five thousand miles by water before arriving safely.
Louisa Pratt was excited to get to the island because Addison Pratt, her husband, had been there on a mission for eight months. Her mission was not the same as his because she had been told to work only with the women and children. She had previously been a teacher, and her nineteen-year-old daughter learned the native language easily and helped her by acting as an interpreter.
Louisa Pratt kept a journal. In it she wrote a description of how they celebrated Christmas, 1851, in Tubuai. Because she had taught the women about the life of Jesus Christ, which included the story of His birth, and because Christmastime was approaching, Louisa told them that they would celebrate the birth of Christ with a great feast. This pleased them so much that they began asking her what they could do to make preparations. She told them that they must clean the building from top to bottom. The angels would not attend if the large room, where all Church services were held, wasn’t clean. They took sand and scoured all the benches and floor.
In the center of the room was a large pillar that supported the roof. Louisa placed a tall vivid green Ito tree on either side. The women used tea leaves to make wreaths and decorated the Ito trees with these. The wreaths added bright color and a pleasing fragrance.
Next they added beautiful flowers of the bauran tree and branches of the lime tree with fruit still hanging on them. Finally, Louisa hung pictures of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum in the room. The saints regarded them with great reverence.
Church members and their friends were the only ones invited to the festivities, but just before the program began, natives from all over the island arrived. They gathered around the outside of the building and looked through the windows, staring at the colorful decorations. Louisa became very annoyed and asked the Chief to send them away. He told her that they had never seen anything like this before. He pleaded with her to let them stay this once. Her anger softened, and she consented to let them stay.
Dinner was exceptional as the main course included whole roasted hundred-pound pigs. There were also wild chickens and fish. The table was covered with a tablecloth made of leaves woven together. A large palm leaf was used for a plate. Mats were spread for seats, and most of the food would have to be eaten with their fingers as there were few knives, forks, or spoons. The food that had been prepared the day before was wrapped in large leaves. There was poi, breadfruit, coconuts, pineapples, bananas, and other kind’s of fruit. Milk from the coconuts was the beverage. When all was ready, Franklin Grouard said a prayer and blessed the food.
A religious service was held after dinner. As the evening arrived and the room became dark, glass lamps, that had been collected from all over the village, were lighted. The group was pleased with the musical renditions. Johnathan Crossly played the violin, and Mrs. Pratt’s daughter, Ellen, played the flutina [flute]. A group of singers added their sweet voice to the program, and everyone agreed that this was a wonderful way to celebrate the birth of the Savior.
Louisa Pratt wrote, “As I gazed at the scenery, beautiful beyond description, the tall, stately cocoanut trees reaching toward the sky, verdure everywhere, the roar of the mighty ocean, it seemed I must be in a different would entirely from the one in which my parents and all my relatives, save those who were with me, lived, wrapped in ice and snow, as I knew they would be on this day in far-off Canada and New England; but I knew their love and blessings were wafted to us, and that in their hearts, as in ours, glowed the love of the lowly Master and the Spirit of Christmas.”
International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Museum Memories (Talon Printing: Salt Lake City, 2011), 3: 224-225.