(The following is reposted, with a couple of edits, from 16 years ago!)
Contrary to popular belief, the season of Christmas is NOT the period from Thanksgiving through December 25th. That idea comes more from modern advertisers and merchandise salesman – the “only so many shopping days ’til Christmas” folks. Oh, no; the true season of Christmas is not the period leading up to Christmas Day but rather the one leading from it! And for Claire and I, the Twelve Days of Christmas is so much more than the title of a terribly redundant song; it presents particularly marvelous and memorable opportunities to celebrate the Advent of our Lord.
Let's face it -- Christmas is just too big and beautiful to be contained in one day. True, we love December and its various anticipations of Christmas and we engage in a whole host of Christmassy activities during that month. (Check out the December LifeSharer letter right here to see a few.) However, many of our most enjoyable and fruitful celebrations begin rather than end on December 25th. Indeed, while so many people (even Christians) are weighed down by the post-holiday blues, we're just getting underway!
Are you interested in stretching your Christmas out to its fullest? Well, here are a few suggestions.
1) The enjoyment of Christmas movies, reading, music, and parties go on apace for Claire and me even after the 25th. This is an extremely helpful exercise for all those people who complain about how fast Christmas comes and goes. Take it easy! When you utilize the whole season (all of December and then the 12 Days of Christmas proper), you'll see you'll have more time for Christmas priorities as well as its most pleasant diversions. Many who adopt this approach find that as they de-emphasize the one day celebration (with its hectic stress on big dollar presents and big dinner preparations), they are much more able to enjoy family, contemplation, and the other more spiritual elements of Christmas.
2) The nobility of celebrating the entire season of Christmas is that it emphasizes extending over spending. Our gift-giving goes a long way beyond Christmas Morning because we open presents each of the Twelve Days. Imagine how much fun that is! And yet the costs of gift giving actually went down with this practice, not up. For even though we are giving each other more gifts than ever, we have become more creative and personal in our selection. We might still buy each other a couple of “pricey” gifts but, with a whole 12 Days to cover, we were forced to come up with other ideas. And those other ideas have proven to be delightful ways of coming together in the spirit of Christmas.
For example, now our Christmas gifts include more personal favors and time spent together. For instance, Claire opens an envelope on the Seventh Day of Christmas which contains a new recipe along with a note declaring that I'm fixing that particular dish for supper tonight. Or it might be a day off from housework, the addresses of three newly discovered websites I know she'll enjoy checking out, or just a promise of a leisurely car ride out in the country. As for my pleasure in gifts, it is centered on inexpensive things anyway like used books, used records, and...let's see; did I mention used books and records already? Anyhow, the point is that whether you use twelve days or one day to celebrate Christmas, the gifts that matter most are ones that underscore things like time, creativity, and personal attention more than mere “stuff.” For us, the extended approach was very helpful in pursuing the better things.
3) Even within the Twelve Days of Christmas, Claire and I have a few special observances, especially St. Stephen's Day (December 26th) and the Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28th). Activities for observing the former should certainly include reading the Acts passages relating to Stephen's selection as deacon, his sermon before the Council, and his martyrdom. It could also involve writing a letter or two to missionaries, witnessing to your Faith, or visiting a widow or someone else in need of encouragement. And Holy Innocents Day, of course, has an obvious significance for pro-life activists like us. It is an excellent time for spiritual exercises and public actions that promote the sanctity of life.
4) Another important element of our Christmas season is taking time to consider, pray about, and discuss our New Year's resolutions. Now, I know some Christians are critical of those who make New Year's resolutions. That's unfortunate. I assume it's because these critics believe making resolutions suggests a dependence upon one's own strength rather than God's grace. Wrong. Making resolutions is most definitely a biblical practice. Think for a moment about the Scripture's use of exhortational verbs like reckon, count, establish, consider, dedicate, consecrate, remember, put aside, purpose, gird your mind, and many more. All refer to the prayerful making (and keeping) of resolutions to live godly. An evaluation of one's life is always in order as is a careful plan of action to be more effective as a “doer of the Word.” After all, this is a key purpose of the Sabbath rest God instituted. So, why not use the Twelve Days to go deeper than usual in your spiritual analysis so that you can better serve the Savior in the year to come?
5) And finally, all things come to their completion. The Christmas season is over for us when Twelfth Night comes around but there's one more important Christmas event. That is our celebration of Epiphany on January 6th. Epiphany is the holiday when the manifestation of Jesus is celebrated in much of the world, the day when we remember the visit of the magi as well as the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. It is also the gift-giving Christmas for much of the eastern world. Claire and I use Epiphany as a way to close our Christmas season and we do so with a final Christmas party. Most significantly, we take time with our friends to wrap up the figures from our main nativity set, each person sharing a testimony or a prayer relating to each nativity figure. It is always a very moving time of fellowship.
So, there you go -- a few ideas from our house to yours about how Christmas can be extended in time and, we believe, elevated in spirit.