"My mom said having me on Christmas definitely changed her view of the whole thing. She went into labor on Dec. 24 and delivered me on the 25th. She knew Mary had painful contractions. She knew that whatever Mary had worn was certainly not clean and beautiful. It surely was stained. Mom said I was in a sterile hospital delivery room; Mary was probably in a cave that served as a stable for animals. It surely smelled. I was blessed to have experienced doctors and nurses. Mary had Joseph.
"So she saw a little differently. It also gave her a different view of Jesus. Mom recalled that her greatest realization of all was that Jesus must have cried. She said the hymn 'Away in a Manger' is wrong when it says, 'Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.' We don't know who wrote those lyrics, the hymn book says anonymous. Well, anonymous has never been around a real baby.
"She said having me blew her image of Mary sitting there with a beautiful little quiet baby as everyone sits around in adoration. I make the point that at Christmas we celebrate the birth of a real baby to a real mother and a real Heavenly Father. We received a real Savior who performed a real Atonement, without which we would have been really lost. It's another example of how this Christmas birthday has always helped me see Christmas a little differently." —Brad Wilcox
For Brad Wilcox, sharing his birthday with Christmas has created a lifetime of memories.
As a youngster, his parents worried his birthday would be lost in the holiday rush, so they worked hard to make him feel special each December.
One year they hung a banner in the home that said: "Happy Birthday to Jesus and Brad!"
They started a tradition of putting up two trees — one for Jesus and one for Brad.
His siblings were supposed to place one gift under each tree. That worked well until one brother got him a pair of mittens and gave one to Brad and one to Jesus.
"Everything went downhill from there," Wilcox said. "Despite the drawbacks, my Christmas birthday has always added sparkle to the season and made Christmas joyous."
Growing up with a Dec. 25 birthday is among the topics Wilcox shares in his new Christmas-themed book, Because of the Messiah in a Manger.
In addition to discussing this new book and its Christmas message, the author, associate professor at Brigham Young University, and popular Latter-day Saint speaker shared his thoughts on other topics in an interview. Wilcox relaxes on plane or car rides by working on books or other projects. Instead of playing sport as a kid, he developed public speaking skills. Wilcox also revealed his secret writing strategy, among other things.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trent Toone: With teaching at BYU, writing books, Time Out for Women, Especially For Youth(EFY), other speaking engagements and your family, I imagine you stay extremely busy. Does Brad Wilcox ever relax? What’s your favorite hobby?
Brad Wilcox: Oh, I don't know that I have a hobby. I do find a lot of joy in reading and I find a lot of joy in writing. I actually like airplane trips because I can usually read or write on a plane trip. I kind of like that time when I don't have access to emails or phones or anything. I just kind of like being able to sit there and get some things done.
TT: Speaking of getting away from devices, what did you think of President Russell M. Nelson's recent challenges to youth and sisters to fast from social media?
BW: I loved it. I loved it. I'm not a huge social media fan. I'm not a huge social media presence. I have a Facebook account. I like to keep a few things posted out there as we've been instructed to do from President M. Russell Ballard (Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) and Elder David A. Bednar (also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). But I'm not a real follower of social media because of the research coming out that links social media to loneliness and depression. I see these college students that I work with, and they just eat, drink and breathe it. I think it's a little unhealthy, we've got to step away from it.
I often will encourage the same thing with my students and people, to step away from it, just so we get a little more balance. When we were growing up, there was that big concern that you're spending too much time in front of TV. Now I think, oh, that's nothing compared to the time these kids are spending on social media. So I do think it's good for people to step back and find that balance. I like having time away from email and social media for something we don't do much anymore — pondering. Much of the stuff I write, I write in my car because I write it as I'm thinking about it in my mind. Later I'll get it down on paper. Sometimes I'll listen to the Book of Mormon. Sometimes I'll listen to a good audiobook. But sometimes it's time to just sit, ponder and pray. I like having that time. I'm afraid too many people fill that time with stuff that's meaningless.
TT: During your career, you've spoken to large crowds on countless occasions and have such a natural, engaging style of speaking. Did you ever have to overcome a fear of public speaking? How did you become such a dynamic speaker?
BW: I don't know that I've ever had a fear of it. I didn't have a lot of sports skills in elementary school. I had spent childhood years in Africa. So I never learned much about football and baseball and all these things that boys are supposed to do here in the United States. Yet in elementary school, I got involved with a little singing group. I was asked to give a talk at a big freedom festival thing. Somehow I found there a lot of the validation that a lot of boys will find in sports.
So when I was in a play or when I was involved with public speaking in high school, I started finding a place where I felt like I had a voice. It was George Bickerstaff, who worked for Bookcraft publishing, who gave me the challenge to write my first book before my mission. I had some rare opportunities at a young age to discover my voice and to feel like what I was saying mattered, that my opinion counted, that my testimony counted, and that I could make a difference. I think because I sensed that at a young age, I've been able to just carry that confidence with me. But don't put me on a basketball court because then I lose all confidence.
TT: Over the years you've published several books. What was your most challenging book to write?
BW: Sometimes I think the most challenging books I've ever written are the shorter ones. It's hard to shorten a book down. Your editor comes in and says I need this to be cut in half, and you're like, what can go?
When they told me they wanted this book to be a little smaller, to be a little more gift-oriented, that challenged me. I think sometimes the shorter books are even harder for me than when I have a little more space to be able to expound on the ideas. This way I have to really focus in, hit it quickly, hit it hard and move on.
TT: What is unique about this book, Because of the Messiah in a Manger?
BW: If people who read me appreciate something, I think they appreciate that I look at things from a little different angle. I've gone some directions here with Christmas, with the Holy Family, looking at shepherds and wise men. People think, "Oh, this is so worn out. How many people have written about wise men and shepherds?" But as a writer, if I can find a little different angle, then I can get people to look at something in a new way. That was my challenge that I gave myself in producing this. How can we get somebody to look at Christmas in a little different way, not the same old retelling of the same old stories? How can we do this in a way that's going to be a little fresh and have people walking away saying, well I never really thought about that before. If they can say that about Christmas then they can also say that about Christ.
I didn't want it to just be another Christmas gift book that will be given and forgotten next year. I want it to be something that's going to be a little more enduring because of the unique insights that perhaps I can offer that might make people perk up and pay a little more attention to the season.
TT: With President Nelson correcting the name of the church, it was interesting to see you write about how commercialization is taking over Christmas. How do the two relate?
BW: I think it's the same kind of thing. I wasn't thinking about it in the name of the church. I felt as reprimanded as any other member. I feel the same way about Christmas. In a way, it's kind of gotten hijacked in that it's not about Christ anymore, yet people will celebrate it. But there's a deeper message.
But if we keep that focus on Christ, then it can help us realize that we can choose happiness, we can choose growth and we can choose progress, regardless of the circumstances of our lives.
TT: Tell me about one interesting Christmas thought you share in the book?
BW: My mom said having me on Christmas definitely changed her view of the whole thing. She went into labor on Dec. 24 and delivered me on the 25th. She knew Mary had painful contractions. She knew that whatever Mary had worn was certainly not clean and beautiful. It surely was stained. Mom said I was in a sterile hospital delivery room; Mary was probably in a cave that served as a stable for animals. It surely smelled. I was blessed to have experienced doctors and nurses. Mary had Joseph.
So she saw a little differently. It also gave her a different view of Jesus. Mom recalled that her greatest realization of all was that Jesus must have cried. She said the hymn "Away in a Manger" is wrong when it says, "Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes." We don't know who wrote those lyrics, the hymn book says anonymous. Well, anonymous has never been around a real baby.
She said having me blew her image of Mary sitting there with a beautiful little quiet baby as everyone sits around in adoration. I make the point that at Christmas we celebrate the birth of a real baby to a real mother and a real Heavenly Father. We received a real Savior who performed a real Atonement, without which we would have been really lost. It's another example of how this Christmas birthday has always helped me see Christmas a little differently.
Get more fascinating insights from Brad Wilcox in Because of the Messiah in a Manger.