I’ve Been Shorted!
Whatever Happened to the 12 days of Christmas?

I love looking at Christmas lights.

But I DON’T love to chew on them.

Apparently though, not everyone shares my preferences.

(“Wait!” You are thinking. “Hold on now, Leya. Why are you writing a Christmas post now? It’s January for crying out loud! Aren’t you a little late?” Well no. Actually I’m not. But we’ll get to that later.)

We use white Christmas lights at our house. Simply plug in a couple of extension next to the door, and the night comes sparkling to life. Tiny specks of light glimmer along every porch rail, twinkle over the outline of the roof, and mark the path all the way down to the lake. Once there, they circle the edge of the dock and glisten in rippling reflection on the glassy surface of the water.

Or at least, that’s what they were supposed to do.

But we got a new dog this year.

He’d been abandoned near our house as a puppy this past summer, and one mournful look from his adorable brown eyes convinced us to become his new family. Nobody warned us at the time that he had a fetish for electric cords. So we were quite startled when he shorted out half our Christmas light display.

Wow, thanks. Talk about gratitude.

He’s too cute to be mad at though. And really, that’s not such a big deal right? A little duct tape, some rearranging, a new extension cord, and everything will be dandy. But what if you found out somebody had shorted you out of more than a few bulbs and cords? What if, instead of shorting you on Christmas lights, they’d gone and shorted you on Christmas itself?

Well here’s a news-flash:

Somebody DID.

You see, the commercialized Christmas we’re accustomed to as made us believe that Christmas is a twenty-four hour affair. Oh sure, it’s proceeded by a month or more of frantic shopping, decorating, and preparation, but it’s all really just leading up to one day. One. Single. Day. And on that day you try to squeeze in every conceivable Christmas tradition you possibly can. If you have young kids they drag you out of bed at ridiculous hours, so everybody is sleep-deprived. Then, you probably eat pretty much pure sugar for breakfast (we have Christmas cookies and hot chocolate). The kids are on a sugar high, running around kicking boxes and wrapping paper in all directions, until they have a corresponding sugar crash and are now in melt-down from the excitement and lack of nutrition and sleep. Cards with Christmas money in them get lost in bags of cast-off wrappings being taken out to the trash, so you’re frantically digging through the garbage searching for that hundred dollar check from Aunt Peggy. The kids look at you half-way through the afternoon, sitting in a pile of presents, and have the audacity to tell you that they are bored. Somebody steps on the dog by accident. You’re trying to cram in Christmas dinner and a Christmas movie and Christmas carols and whatever other Christmas things you are determined to get done. The house is a total wreck. Somebody trips over an empty box and spills eggnog all over your brand new blue-tooth speaker, and by the time it gets to be about 8pm you are all ready to fall into bed from exhaustion. Probably you don’t do it though. You stay up, because it’s Christmas, and just accept the fact that you will be a zombie at work tomorrow.

Then tomorrow comes. And life goes back to normal. Everything is being cleaned up, put away, thrown away, eaten, or whatever needs to be done with it. Weeks and weeks of preparation, and then BAM! One day of celebration and it’s all over. Christmas is finished.

Or…is it?

Remember that ridiculously long and repetitive Christmas song? The one that you only sing when you’ve been out caroling way to long and you’ve run out of ideas and just want to go home and warm up already?

“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…”

Yep. That one.

Well guess what? ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ It’s not just a repetitive song nobody can remember all the verses too. It’s actually a window into a kind of Christmas celebration that we in America have almost forgotten about. It hearkens back to when Christmas wasn’t just a single exhausting day of celebration topping off weeks and weeks of commercialized chaos. Back then, a lot more people remembered what it was we are actually celebrating, and the department stores hadn’t weighed in yet.

Here’s how Christmas used to go:

For four Sundays before Christmas you had Advent. It was a quieter, more solemn season. Not a time of feasting and partying, but of prayer, preparation,  remembrance and anticipation. (Some of you might be familiar with advent wreaths, etc.). This was the lead-up. Vaguely similar to how we still spend a month or so preparing for Christmas. But also quite different, since it was focused much more on the true meaning of Christmas, and everybody had a much better idea Who we were actually getting ready to celebrate.

Then came the party.

Which STARTED on December 25th. Started. Not ended. What we think of as “Christmas day” actually was just the beginning of a twelve-day celebration full of feasting, caroling, gift-giving, parties, etc, etc, etc. Remember the old Christmas song telling how “Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen…”? Well, the feast of Stephen is one of the twelve days of Christmas, specially dedicated to the memory of the first Christian martyr, and often a time for giving to the poor. Wow. Suddenly that song actually makes sense!

Each of the twelve days has it’s own special associations in different cultures, but the main point is that back then, however it was you celebrated, you did it for twelve days. TWELVE WHOLE DAYS. Can you imagine how much fun that would be? A celebration that lasted almost two weeks? Forget about feeling stressed out trying to crowd everything in. You could do caroling one day, a Christmas movie a different day, special meals spread throughout. Even present-opening could stretch out over twelve days instead of doing it all at once and getting an exhausted let-down afterward. Just open one present, really enjoy it, and anticipate the next one tomorrow. (Not to mention, can you imagine how much money you could save buying gifts after December 25th instead of before? All those after-Christmas sales just became during –Christmas sales! Yay!) There’s plenty of time to do different kinds of Christmas baking. You don’t have to eat everything sweet at once, you’ve got twelve days to visit family and friends. Just think of it! How much more restful and fun would the holiday be if you had twelve days to enjoy it?

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty annoyed with whoever it was that decided Christmas ended when you woke up December 26th. All my life that seemed like such a bummer! You prepare and prepare, the whole month long, and then it’s all over in one day??? Come on.

Well it turns out, I was right to be bummed. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be! For hundreds and hundreds of years, people got twelve whole days of Christmas. I SHOULD feel shorted for only having one!

And I’ve decided not to put up with it anymore. I was complaining to a friend about how much I disliked only celebrating one day of Christmas, and wished we celebrated all twelve. And guess what he said?

“Then do something about it.”

Ummmm….

At the time I gave him excuses. “I can’t tell my whole family how to celebrate Christmas. I can’t get off work for twelve whole days. I can’t….blah blah blah.” But I realized afterward, he was right. So I went to my family and I said, “Hey. Anybody else want to celebrate for twelve days instead of one?”

Turns out, it was pretty much unanimous.

So the decorations stayed up, the lights stayed on, the Christmas music kept playing. And we even watched my favorite Christmas movie (The Nativity Story) which we didn’t get a chance to do before Christmas. We watched it January 3rd.

And it didn’t feel one bit late.

We’re already planning all sorts of new traditions for next year, and I can hardly wait. But for now, it’s just about time to close out this Christmas season.

Depending on how to count to twelve days, Christmas either ends January 5th (at night) or January 6th (before the sun sets). Today is January 6th, so I’m counting it. It’s also the feast of Epiphany, which remembers the arrival of the wise men with their gifts. Hmmm. Maybe we should exchange gifts January 6th next year…

Well anyway. Now I think you understand why I said this post is most certainly NOT late. I hope I’ve inspired all of you to take a little more time to celebrate one of the most momentous events in human history. I mean seriously. One solitary day of festivities might make sense if we were really only celebrating a mythical, red-coated old geezer and some flying reindeer. But think about it! The eternal, all powerful Maker of the universe puts on human flesh and is born as a baby in a stable so that He can grow up in this sin-stained world and die to redeem it…and we throw Him a party once a year for twenty-four hours?

Come on.

So… Merry Christmas everybody! And I hope you’re all having a very happy New Year!



Have you ever celebrated the twelve days of Christmas? Or do you think you might try it next year? What are your traditions? Comment below! I need all the ideas I can get!

 

4 thoughts on “I’ve Been Shorted!
Whatever Happened to the 12 days of Christmas?

  1. Anna Stoltzfus says:

    That’s how we celebrate our Christmas! We don’t exchange gifts until Epiphany, the 6th of January. Christmas Day then becomes more about family instead of gift giving. And we celebrate the month of Advent at our church, culminating on Christmas Eve when we celebrate the birth of Christ with a candle light service and a feast afterwards. So we get to celebrate for a month and a half!

  2. Judy Moomaw says:

    We celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, and we always have a wonderful candlelight service, on Christmas Eve! I love every minute of it!

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