More Like Three Wise Guys, I’d Say

As a kid, I was at least somewhat aware that we Mormons believed differently than other Christians about some crucial doctrines. For example, I knew that our belief in God having a physical body wasn’t widely shared. I also knew that, unlike the sadly misled apostates, we believed that the Wise Men weren’t present at the birth of Jesus.

Yes, I thought that was a central doctrine. I also thought that Mormons uniquely took that position that the Wise Men arrived later. I’m not sure why I thought this was so important or unique. Maybe my parents mentioned it to me once or twice, or suggested I move the Wise Men away from the stable in the nativity scene. I don’t know. It makes me laugh to think back now that I thought it was such a central and important issue.

I’d love to hear of anyone else’s experiences of finding out that the Church-related ideas you thought were crucial as a kid turned out to be not so important.

[In case it’s not clear, my title is a reference to the Far Side cartoon in which a bartender (I think) is dismissing the Wise Men with this line.]


  1. My mom taught me that too. She also taught me other important Mormon Christmas-decor-related doctrines such as “Jesus was not born in December” and “angels do not have wings.”

  2. It’s interesting to me that my Presbyterian, SLC-born-and-raised boyfriend tends to think of this same type of belief as somehow central to Mormonism. He’s always bringing up the angels with no wings business. He must have heard a lot of kids in scout and at school spouting these important factoids.

  3. Entire Christian denominations have been started over more finely split hairs …

    I’m not sure how central I thought this was as a child, but I remember “knowing” that Mormons don’t play music by the Beatles.

  4. Thanks, C.L. Hanson and Minerva. I had totally forgotten the issue of wing-free angels. I got that one as a kid too. Now can you confirm or deny one of my favorite rumors about that Second Coming of Christ picture that is displayed by so many Mormons that the robes fluttering out behind him were originally painted as wings?

    Good point, Ardis. I know nothing about early Christian history except what I remember Lynnette or Kiskilili telling me, but it does seem like you say that there are lots of things that seem like details that have led to big fights and schisms.

    That’s a great one, Susan. But I always heard it was Coke (and I did grow up in the Church). I’m sure the idea of Coke or Pepsi being owned by Mormons has had a long life because the irony of a caffeine-frowning on church owning a company that makes famously caffeinated beverages is just too delicious to be untrue.

  5. Okay I can’t speak for other denominations, but I know Catholics are fullt aware that the Wise Men weren’t present at the birth of Christ.

    Of course, the only reason I know this is because my mom was usually in charge of decorating the church when I was a kid, and made sure the wise men did not appear in the Nativity scene until mid-january.

  6. Oh yeah, sorry I wasn’t clear. I was trying to say both that I was surprised to learn later (1) that the timing of the arrival of the Wise Men was a trivial issue, and (2) that it wasn’t actually a Mormon thing.

    In fact, I would guess that the only reason I thought it was an issue is that so many nativity scenes show the Wise Men present and my parents pointed out that they thought this was misleading. So what do you think, Huh?

  7. At the ward Christmas party last Friday, the Primary children re-enacted the nativity. Our four Sunbeams were angels around the star, and they wore some kind of white sheet and had wings taped to their backs. Somebody felt it was necessary to point out to everybody withing earshot that winged angels are HERETICAL and that we DO NOT believe in them. Sigh.

  8. The Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated on January 6, commemorates the arrival of the Magi. It’s clear from the gospels that they did not arrive until after the Child was born.

  9. … the living creatures I had seen beneath the God of Israel by the river Chebar, whom I now recognized to be cherubim.
    Each had four faces and four wings; something like human hands were under their wings.

  10. Somebody felt it was necessary to point out to everybody withing earshot that winged angels are HERETICAL and that we DO NOT believe in them. Sigh.

    I love these stories. Why do people get so bunged up about this stuff? I am the primary chorister and I am a terrible artist. I was trying to draw a convincing manger to illustrate the Christ Child as a prompt for a particular song. I couldn’t do it, so I just put a halo around the baby’s head hoping this would convey holiness and thus that this was baby Jesus. I thought some people in the primary leadership might take issue with it. No one said anything, but I saw a few tense adult faces when I presented the picture and one of the kids asked me what that was around the baby’s head.

  11. While I do not believe they literally have wings, I think that we sometimes swat at gnats and swallow camels in the Church. Ardis’ example at Keepapitchinin site is a good example.
    Personally, I think we lose out on a lot of symbolism when we outright reject everything due to literalism. Wings denote power, movement, abilities that mortals do not have. Whether angels literally have them or not, is immaterial. What is important is what they signify.
    For example, an ancient Hebrew concept is when the feet are covered, it really means the loins. So, when an angel’s feet are covered with wings, it is the loins. When Ruth lays at Boaz’ feet…, well, you get the idea.

  12. My son came home from primary this week with an angel he had made from paper made into a conical shape. Taped to the angel’s back was a set of wings resembling those of a butterfly. We put it on top of our small tabletop Christmas tree.

  13. Fun post! I’ve found it a continuing challenge to tease out just what beliefs are peculiar to Latter-day Saints, and which ones are common in the larger Christian world, and I still sometimes get it wrong. I remember once a few years ago, saying something to a friend about how LDS have a scripture that says “many are called, but few are chosen,” thinking of the passage in D&C 121. He looked at me strangely and said umm yes, we have that scripture too; it’s in the Bible. Oh, yeah.

    When I was a kid, I thought that Mormons were the only ones who understood themselves as being personally guided by the Holy Ghost. Conversely, for the longest time I thought that the doctrine of the premortal life came straight from the Bible (I mean the doctrine in its full-blown form; I realize there are biblical passages which are often interpreted by LDS as alluding to it), and was standard Christian teaching. I think this impression may have come from the fact that my Old Testament stories picture book included an introductory chapter on the pre-existence.

  14. I just received a Christmas letter from a friend that included a scripture reference (that I have not looked up) which apparently shows that the wise men didn’t meet Jesus until he was a toddler.

    Seriously, folks, at Christmas time I have more important fish to fry.

  15. Ray – fish on friday is the lenten season 🙂

    After Vatican Council II, fish on every friday was changed to fish on fridays during lent only. that was also when women were no longer required to cover their heads while in church (there went the haberdashery industry) and Post-VC II – nuns were no longer required to cast their eyes down while talking with a priest – they could look them eye to eye.

    it’s a great day – make it a good one.

  16. As someone raised Catholic, I have fond memories of our weekly Friday night dinner at the local pizza parlor. During lent, it was always cheese pizza.


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