A friend on Facebook wrote that she and her husband were taking a walk the night after Christmas Day. They passed a neighbor out in his yard and wished him a merry Christmas. The neighbor paused and said, “Oh, you mean for next year?” The husband “told him that no, the wish was for this year since Christmas lasts twelve days and we’re only on day two. He said, ‘Oh, yeah, I guess you’re right.'”
The day after Christmas my husband and I were walking in our neighborhood retail area. I thought we might get our children some Christmas treats at the candy shop. It was closed.
And at church on Sunday, some folks kindly asked my children not if they were having a nice Christmas but if they’d had a nice Christmas.
It’s pretty clear that most Americans who celebrate Christmas somehow do not celebrate the full 12-day season. And that’s a shame, because a full 12-day celebration is a much more enjoyable way to spend Christmas.
Competing Liturgical Calendars
We have two main competing visions for how to celebrate Christmas in America. The first, which we could call the retail model, is undoubtedly the most popular. And it has a lot going for it as the primary mover of Christmas celebrations in this country. Beginning as late as Black Friday (the shopping day the day after Thanksgiving) or as early as July or August, it culminates with Christmas Day and then abruptly stops. No more Christmas music. No more greetings of “Merry Christmas!”
As the season progresses through November and December, it involves increasingly frenzied shopping, completely de-Christianized but otherwise interfaith school children programs, much stringing of lights and decorating of Christmas trees, drunken work parties, and secular holy days that include Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. Oh, and lots of Santas and Elves on Shelves and, for some reason I will never understand, viewings of “Love, Actually.”
The Christian liturgical calendar is somewhat different. For the Western Church, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day. It’s the beginning of the entire church calendar year and it is a time of preparation for Christ’s coming. It usually involves special prayers, more opportunities for worship, and special time for repentance. It’s not a time for partying. Then the feasting begins on Christmas and lasts for 12 days moving into the Epiphany season.
You have heard of the 12 days of Christmas but, perhaps, thought it just a song that involves a true love giving you lords-a-leapin’ and turtle doves and what not. If you hear about it much these days, it’s usually in the context of the Associated Press’ annual calculation of how much it would cost to give the items in inflation-adjusted dollars.
But the 12 days are what the actual Christmas season is. And believe it or not, there are more than a few of us who celebrate it that walk among you.
A local newsman in Duluth asked readers when they take down Christmas decorations and was surprised at how many people replied that they mark the 12 days of Christmas and wait until Epiphany to remove their decorations.
“I would never want to take down Christmas until I’ve celebrated all 12 days,” Evelyn Hagfeldt said.
Some readers, like Cheryl Pearson, said they have followed the religious calendar ardently at least a few times by decorating the tree on Christmas Eve. “As Catholics, we considered it to be the Advent season until Christmas Eve,” Pearson said. “And the Christmas season after Christmas Day.” But Pearson admits that in some seasons, the tree and other decorations have stayed up far past Jan. 6.
I’m with Evelyn and Cheryl. Team 12 Days of Christmas!
Crass benefits of celebrating 12 days of Christmas
Now, I really think people should celebrate the 12 days of Christmas because it’s the liturgically proper and beneficial way to mark the season. It just makes sense to have a preparation time followed by a celebration appropriate to God taking on human flesh to save us.
But it also has a ton of other benefits:
This was me, a full-time working mother of young school-age children, the week before Christmas Day:
One cool thing about celebrating 12 days of Christmas (beginning on Christmas) is that I have done no shopping and am not stressed at all.
Mollie (@MZHemingway) December 18, 2014
My husband and I set aside some gifts for our children in the past few months but we pretty much began our Christmas shopping for family the day after Christmas. I’m wrapping up baked goods to deliver to the neighbors throughout the week. And I haven’t been stressed in the slightest.
And guess what buying gifts throughout the 12 days of Christmas means. Pretty much that you get to hit a ton of 50 percent off sales. And a few 75 percent off sales. Seriously, for this reason alone you should follow my lead. I walked out of the nice toy store in my neighborhood with two huge bags of toys on Saturday that I would have paid at least twice as much for a few days earlier. And my kids haven’t even opened up some of these gifts yet.
Children enjoy it more
You know how much children love opening up gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? Now imagine that they get 12 days of extra time with parents, gifts, cookie making and cookie eating. My children recently discovered that some people only have one day of Christmas and they thought it was the saddest thing they’d ever heard. Also, though, I’m sure you’ve experienced one of those Christmases where the child is so inundated with gifts that he or she just loses it. Either the child is overwhelmed by the goods or just tears through each gift without properly appreciating it. If the child is only getting one or two gifts a day, he or she gets to enjoy it for a full day before opening up the next gift.
More fun, more variety
And spreading out the gift-giving and celebrations over 12 days is just more fun for everyone. Just a few days into Christmas we’ve spent time together making garlands, opening gifts, making special meals, preparing gifts for friends, special church services, drives, hikes, walks, shopping, and phone calls with family. It doesn’t all have to happen on one day so we can do a bunch of different things.
This might go along with “no stress,” but this long period of celebration also means you get a true respite from work and regular hectic schedule.
So there you go. If you’re interested in joining Team 12 Days of Christmas, here are some ideas for how to celebrate. It’s time to move caroling into the Christmas season, for instance. Also, people should carol more in general. Whenever we do it, the neighbors get so excited. Or they get excited as soon as they figure out we’re neither robbing them nor trying to sell them anything. If you’re looking for a radio station that plays Christmas music during the Christmas season, try out Lutheran Public Radio.
And if there’s one other tradition it would be nice to see returning, it would be Twelfth Night parties. You’ve read the Shakespeare play, sure, but we are due for some fun partying to close out the Christmas season. I’m happy to say I just got invited to an Epiphany party and another friend is considering a Twelfth Night party this year as well.
And whether or not you’re sold, here’s the best version of the otherwise annoying 12 Days of Christmas song, by my fellow Coloradan John Denver and the great Muppets.