10 ways to celebrate the 12 Days
Every Christian has the same beef with Christmas.
It hasn’t changed since Linus defiantly took the stage of the Christmas pageant to remind us what the holiday is all about. We’re concerned with how this Holy Day has been co-opted by the malls and aluminum trees. We’re worried the Gift has been replaced with gifts.
The 12 Days help ensure that the Gift is not replaced with gifts.
Brother, I hear you. And I have found an antidote to our diseased American Christmases: celebrating the 12 Days. I’ve already written about why there are 12 days and what each day *could* symbolize. Now, let’s get down to some brass tacks. How do you celebrate Christmas from December 25th to January 6th?
Here are 10 practical ideas. Take them for what they’re worth; most important is to “fix your eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12), and to have fun.
1. Open a gift a day.
Let’s go right after the beast from the get-go. The gift-opening orgy at the break of dawn that is the tradition in most households has got to go. Why not space them out over all 12 days? Depending on the number of people and presents, it could be one gift total a day, or one per person (until they run out for the grown-ups—typically before New Year’s). In my experience, this puts the focus—especially on Christmas Day itself—back where it should be.
2. Go to church.
Of course the pastor is going to say this. But seriously, why has sparse attendance on Christmas Day (or even cancelled worship) become so common as to be a joke? Imagine if people went to the wedding rehearsal dinner, but skipped the ceremony the next day. That’d be crazy, right? Face it: you can only watch A Christmas Story so many times. Go worship Jesus some more. It’s good for you. At Beautiful Savior, we’ve got service at 10:30 on Christmas Day—but caroling starts at 10:15!
3. Save the best present for last.
If you’re with me on #1 above, here’s a follow-up tip: save the best gift for Epiphany on January 6th. In truth, our custom of gift-giving has more in common with the Magi bringing their gold and frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus than it does with His birth. This can also help keep the excitement going the whole season long; if all that’s left come the last day of Christmas is the Pez dispenser, it’s a little anti-climactic.
4. Give to those less fortunate.
Christmas is replete with feast days, each of which deserve their own post. First up is St. Stephen on December 26th. Stephen is remembered as a deacon in the church, one who attended to the needs of the poor in the community. Visit the Salvation Army (or the like) and give from your own treasures to those in need. You might learn the carol “Good King Wencelas” as well, which tells when “Good King Wencelas once looked out on the Feast of Stephen…” Which reminds me…
5. Go caroling.
Singing makes the heart light. You could go to friends in the neighborhood, or grab a group from church and visit a nursing home.
6. Write a St. John “valentine.”
St. John the Apostle’s day is December 28th, and though St. Valentine on February 14th has attracted most of the romantic attention, St John is the true “Apostle of Love.” He is the one who famously wrote (in 1 John 4) that “God is love.” Write a note of encouragement to a friend or family member, sharing with them the love of Christ.
7. Watch and pray.
December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the Bethlehem infants whom Herod ordered to be slain (Matthew 2.16-18). Something I have done with my boys on this day is to stand outside the local abortion-providing institution and keep vigil. I’ve never done this just by myself; there have always been others, and you may find that to be the case. It is a poignant reminder that the slaughter of innocents has not ceased, and to pray for God’s mercy.
Whether or not you actually go out and bear witness, though, it is an opportunity to pray for the unborn and all women with child.
These are a recent addition to my household. Each ornament is handmade and very handsome. Plus, they come with a brief devotion to read each day as you hang the ornament—a nice tradition to add alongside the daily present opening.
9. Keep the tree and lights up.
Some folks hardly wait for December 25th to pass before they’re taking down ornaments. Others view lights on the house after the New Year as a source of shame. So what? Keep them up ’till Epiphany and relish this season of light. Oh—but don’t forget to keep that tree watered.
10. Host (or attend) a 12th Night party.
Okay, this is probably my favorite part of the 12 Days—the discovery of the “12th Night” party (and yes, this is the source of Shakespeare’s play by that name). Held the evening of January 5th, a 12th Night party is one last chance to party and celebrate the Christ-child. There are several essential elements to a good 12th Night party:
- Wassail—Here we go a wassailing, indeed! Alton Brown has a great recipe. If this is too intimidating, a mulled wine will do. Use two-buck-chuck from TJ’s and you won’t be disappointed.
- King’s Cake—this delicious cake is popular in Latin American countries and some parts of Europe, and you’ll find different recipes out there. I’ve always just gotten them from my favorite local bakery, which is usually making them this time of year. If they’re really cool, they’ll even include a little figurine and trinket in the cake; whoever finds it (without breaking a tooth, one hopes) is crowned King-for-the-Night. BONUS: get three King Cakes, and you can get a whole set of Magi!
- Carol sing-along—yes, you’ve already gone caroling, but it’s so much fun to sing once more. Make copies of the best loved songs for everyone, and let the King(s) call the shots.
Something else that you could do that I’ve not yet tried is a brief Epiphany play; an internet search will net you some simple scripts. The main goal, though, is to enjoy some conviviality and give one last gasp on the 12 Days.
So there you have it.
It will have been a wondrous season for you by this time, full of fresh memories and new joys, and difficult to let go. You will feel replenished, rather than emptied out—as so often happens with our culture’s celebration of Christmas. Even if you only try a few of these tips, it will immeasurably enrich your Christmas celebration. Most importantly, it will keep the focus where it belongs: the babe of Bethlehem.