Celebrating the Twelve Days

Our family has a tradition of celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas. I don't know how this tradition crept into our lives -- neither I nor my husband grew up with this tradition; in fact, both of our mothers are of the "all decorations down before New Year's" persuasion. But nonetheless, over the six holiday seasons that we've celebrated since becoming parents, this custom has organically slipped into our lives.

snowman candles

I think it partly grew out of our desire to avoid the over-stimulating, greed-filled, disappointing marathon of celebrating all of Christmas in one day. And it grew out of an interest in observing Twelfth Night/Epiphany/Three Kings Day (as it's known in our house), which falls on January 6.

And we're still very much in the process of figuring out what celebrating the Twelve Days is going to look like for us. But we're discovering that it isn't so easy. It seems to be more countercultural than almost any other holiday tradition. The rest of our world (by which I mean our community, and our country, the United States ... I understand that it's very different in some parts of the world) turns the holidays "off" somewhere around New Year's Day. One local radio station plays nothing but Christmas music beginning on Thanksgiving, and on December 26, they stop quite abruptly. I often feel like it would be so much nicer to ease back into "regular programming."

Elisabeth's tree

Elisabeth's live tree in her bedroom.

It's challenging, though, when the preparation for and celebration of a season are all mixed together. It sometimes feels as though we're on this crazy ride ... we're expected to prepare for the holiday and celebrate it simultaneously. And it leaves me feeling a bit crazed. It seems that observing a meditative advent is not a luxury afforded to a mother whose job is to make sure that the celebration is ready on Christmas morning. No wonder so many people tear their decorations down on the day after in a furor of annoyance.


And so, we're finding our own way, bit by bit. Leaving our decorations up through January 6 has necessitated putting them up a bit later. Finding ways to draw out the season has been a bit more difficult. My children certainly aren't in need of more gifts. But we keep our eyes open for family-oriented activities that we can do a bit easier while my husband is on his break from teaching.

christmas on the farm

The farm is decorated with trees from my Holiday Traditions Exchange swap partner.

Sometimes just embracing the fact that this time may be about quiet and peace is a bit challenging for me, but then, maybe that's what it's really here for. Maybe that's the real gift of Christmas. Hmm. Profound thoughts. But being thoughtful, making thoughtful choices for myself and my family, is what my journey is all about. When I was a girl, these couple of weeks after Christmas seemed to be outside of time. We would always get new books for Christmas, and as I grew older and they were chapter books, these became the "weeks of reading" for me. No other responsibilities ... just savoring my new books. And I think my children have this all figured out. They are getting so much good play done right now (as though they didn't the rest of the year?! ha!), and seem quite content to be at home most days.


What I'm learning to do, a bit more each year, is to incorporate some of the things into the Twelve Days that were possibly planned and then missed in the frenzy of Christmas preparation: a get-together with friends we don't see often, a project or craft or baked good we wanted to try and didn't get to. And every year, no matter how carefully planned, Christmas preparation is more of a frenzy than I'd like, and there are leftover things from our list that can still be enjoyed. It's not "perfect" -- and (even more amazing to me) it doesn't have to be!