Family is No. 1 to Cedar Hills’ Steffani Keetch Dastrup. “It’s the most important thing in the whole world,” she says.
Steffani grew up in a family of spiritual giants. Her father, Elder Von G. Keetch, held leadership positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a large part of Steffani’s life, so Jesus was a familiar topic in her household.
On January 26, 2018, her father unexpectedly passed away.
“My dad was everything,” Steffani says.
The Christmas after he passed, the family wanted to pay special tribute to him. They assembled a tree to donate to the Festival of Trees in his honor. They bounced around ideas for the tree’s theme until Steffani’s mom remembered a Christmas message her husband often shared. Inspired by writer William B. Smart in an editorial for Deseret News titled “The 3 levels of Christmas,” Elder Keetch elaborated on this idea in a talk he wrote.
Level 1: Believe. The newspaper author explained this as the “Santa Claus level.” It includes the red and green ribbons, caroling with friends, glazed cinnamon rolls, family gatherings and kind acts to strangers — the secular but wonderful festivities.
Level 2: Noel. The Nativity, along with the shepherds and wisemen and the birth of baby Jesus on a dark, starry night.
Level 3: Rejoice. This level celebrates the adult life, death and resurrection of Christ.
“The point of God giving His gift to the world is so Jesus Christ could grow up, die for us and live again so we can live with Him again someday, too,” Steffani says.
The Keetches decided this would be the tree’s theme. But the idea didn’t just take the shape of a tree — together, the family wrote and published a book titled “3 Levels of Christmas” based on these concepts, with paintings by local artists Elspeth Young and Al Young Studios. Steffani’s mom, Bernice Keetch, was inspired to write the words for the poem in the book.
“Christmas was hard that year. It was a healing process for the whole family to sit down and work on something to honor the man we love and miss so much. It was a spiritual experience for us,” Bernice says.
Putting this symbolic tree and book together sunk the meaning of Christmas deeper into the Keetch family’s hearts. The passing of Steffani’s father’s opened her eyes to what the “rejoice” level really meant — because of Christ, death is not the end, including for her father.
“You hear about the Christmas story your whole life, but until you have a reason to believe it, you just kind of go through the motions,” Steffani says. “But once you go through an experience when you have to believe in it, it means so much more.”
For Latter-day Saints and other Christians, Jesus Christ is the “why” of the holidays. Traditions for members of the church tend to focus on the religious aspect of Christmas, but they also enjoy the classic festivities on the “believe” level.
On Christmas Eve at her grandparents’ home, Steffani’s family reenacts the Nativity, “just like probably all the families in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” she laughs.
They also find joy in the traditional activities: family parties with board games and cheesy potatoes, hilarious white elephant gift exchanges with neighbors, and slumber parties with siblings.
Remembering and enjoying all three levels of Christmas helps tie “believe,” “noel” and “rejoice” together in a beautiful, unified celebration. As their book says,
These Christmas levels could stand alone,
But when we combine all three,
The meaning of Christmas will change in our hearts.
It becomes all it’s meant to be.
“If you’re only taking pieces of it, then you’re missing out,” Steffani says.
She sees fun activities as ways to connect with people from different religious or cultural backgrounds.
“That’s why the secular side of holidays is so important — it creates even ground for everyone,” Steffani says. “Christ brought people together, so that’s what we want to do too.”
For the Keetch family, the ultimate purpose of December 25 is to rejoice, and the birth of Jesus Christ is only the beginning of the story.
“Christmas is so wonderful to celebrate the baby, but we don’t have to stop there,” Steffani says.
As Steffani’s father said in his “3 levels of Christmas” talk, “At this special time of year … may we ascend to the highest, most satisfying Christmas of all. May we ascend to a celebration of His birth — but more importantly, His life.”
Believe. Noel. Rejoice.
“When you combine all three of them,” Steffani smiles, “you unlock the power that Christmas holds.”