Twelve is a huge number for human beings. 12 hours in a day, 12 months in a year, 12 signs in astrology, 12 apostles, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 knights of the round table, 12 Imams, 12 stars in the crown of Mary – and then – there are 12 days of Christmas.
So what are the 12 days of Christmas – and why do most people only celebrate one day?
Well, as is often the case with religious traditions, there are many answers. One of the clearest answers has to do with Epiphany or Kings Day. In the Christian Church, this is the day that honors three big events: the arrival and gift-giving of the three Kings to the Christ Child; the baptism of Jesus; and the day in which Jesus turned water into wine. I find this very interesting because all three of those events have to do with community. They are all about a group of people coming together for a special event.
Christmas Day is about the birth of a baby in a hidden stable – a quiet, almost secretive event. That is the nature of the single day – one birth, one baby – one day. But the arrival of the Kings – three strangers from a foreign land – this makes it a very public community event. A grand community. A baptism is the welcoming of one person into a group of believers. And Jesus turned the water into wine at a wedding. All groups of people coming together to celebrate.
And this is where my understanding of Christmas began to transform. Like most of you, the way I celebrate Christmas mostly revolves around the gifts. As much as I want it to be about helping others, peace and goodwill – truthfully most of my attention is on finding, making, and purchasing gifts. They are piled up around the tree and then Christmas is mostly about opening those gifts. One big event that generally requires several days of recovery.
So what would it look like if Christmas became Twelve Days?
It would become a community event – a period of time in which people came together and celebrated together. This naturally shifts the focus from gifts to relationships. You can’t buy gifts for everyone – but you can eat with them. You can talk with them. You can play games with them – and you open your life to them.
This is a powerful shift and one that I believe your children will welcome. I see the singularity of Christmas tiring them out as well. Too much pressure – too many expectations on a small group of people – Mom, Dad, two sons. Four people holding up a very ambitious festival.
So what if we open it up to our extended family, our friends and our neighbors – what would that look like? This was the reason we created the series of stories “Twelve Tales of a Tullyport Christmas” (https://www.sparklestories.com/store/product/twelve-tales-of-a-tullyport-christmas) where we demonstrate 12 different perspectives on Christmas from 12 different immigrant groups in Colonial Maine. It was a romp of a project. Not only did I learn some history, but I also learned what it was to be a community.
Some ideas we got from the story project are:
- Have a potluck meal with everyone cooking something from their family heritage (Irish soda bread, Thai rice, Swedish meatballs, etc.)
- Hold a neighborhood parade. Really – its super fun – especially in the snow. It tends to be silly and sweet at the same time – even when there are more people in the parade than are watching.
- Extend the gift giving over several days rather than concentrating in on one day.
- Have a day focused on regrets and sadnesses. We ritualize this with writing them down and burning them in an outdoor fire. It gives a real-ness to the festival and honors that life is huge – filled with ups and downs, successes and ‘failures’.
- Hold a dance. I know this sounds way too ambitious but it doesn’t need to be. All you need is music and a room. Make it a family dance where everyone brings refreshments. It will be your favorite day of the twelve – I guarantee it!
- Game night! Everyone brings their favorite board game and you play into the wee hours.
Consider an extension to this year’s Christmas – but whatever you choose to do … spread it out – spread it wide – and welcome in a community that is waiting for you.
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