I thought I’d republish this blog post in time for Xmas 2014: Bring back the 12 days of Xmas!!! #12dXmas

I don’t like what Christmas has morphed into. I have such high expectations drilled into my head of what it should be — thank you, Norman Rockwell. Well, I don’t want to blame it all on his renderings of apple-cheeked children in front of roaring fires with garlands of holly strewn all around. I’ve probably seen It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, A Miracle on 34th Street, and Love Actually (someone referred to this as a classic Christmas movie — really?) too many times. And then there are all those greeting cards I’ve received over the years: I have never gotten one that conveyed the reality of the birth of Jesus, in a smelly, dirty barn full of animals and poop. And then there are the Christmases of my early childhood, when my father could actually figure out what I wanted (a Cabbage Patch Kid, a My Little Pony, a Strawberry Shortcake doll, etc. — these really date me! Maybe I should say I wanted an Elf on a Shelf) and then surprised me with these wonderful gifts on Xmas morning. Now he just gives me cash, which, from an economist’s viewpoint, maximizes my utility, but it really feels so anticlimactic and overly pragmatic. I just can’t help thinking on Christmas day, This is it? Where is all the hoopla?

So how to manage Christmas and the weighty expectations attached to it? The problem is that it’s a tale of two Christmases. Some people talk about the tale of two cities, Washington and the District of Columbia, so I draw a parallel to Christmas. As portrayed in an all-time favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas (notice that I did not include it in the list above of Christmas movies that have perpetuated the warm fuzzies about this holiday), there is the secular, commercialized Christmas which is all about gift-giving, shopping, and aluminum trees (sadly, retailers have noticed that there is an increase in people just buying gifts for themselves so the holiday is growing increasingly inwardly focused), and then there is the faith-filled celebration and anticipation of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, which is what Advent is all about. Of course, Advent has been reduced to a calendar full of goodies, so counting down the days to Christmas is really about stuffing our faces with chocolate.

Thanks to inspiration from my spiritual director, I started thinking about following the liturgical calendar as a means of getting back to the true spirit of Christmas. I didn’t grow up with that background, so I don’t really pay much attention to the liturgical calendar, but I wonder if absorbing the meaning of each day leading up to Christmas, and then the Twelve Days of Christmas themselves (also known as Twelvetide or Christmastide), culminating in the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th), would be one way to rediscover the meaning of Christmas.  So I looked up the Twelve Days of Xmas in Wikipedia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve_Days_of_Christmas) and here’s what I found:

Day 1, 25 December: Christmas Day.
Day 2, 26 December: St. Stephen’s Day. This day is mentioned in the carol “Good King Wenceslas”. Boxing Day, a non-religious banking holiday occurs on the first day following Christmas.
Day 3, 27 December: Feast of saint John the Evangelist and Apostle.
Day 4, 28 December: The Feast of the Holy Innocents, the young male children ordered murdered in Bethlehem by King Herod, according to the Gospel of Matthew. The traditional Christmas song “The Coventry Carol” describes this event.
Day 5, 29 December: The feast day of Saint Thomas Becket.
Day 6, 30 December: The feast of the Holy Family.
Day 7, 31 December: The feast of Saint Sylvester.
Day 8, 1 January: The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Before the Second Vatican Council, it was also observed as the Feast of the Holy Circumcision of Jesus.
Day 9, 2 January: Octave day of St. Stephen or the feast day of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen. In England, the Lichfield Martyrs are also celebrated on this day.
Day 10, 3 January: Feast of Saint Genevieve or the most holy name of Jesus.
Day 11, 4 January: The octave day of the feast of the Holy Innocents or the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint. In medieval times this was The feast of Saint Simon Stylites.
Day 12, 5 January: In the UK this was the Feast of St. Edward the Confessor, King of England. The rest of Europe feasted St. Julian the Hospitaller on this day. The modern church recognizes this as the feast day of St. John Neumann. The evening of the 5 January is also Twelfth Night.

I can’t tell you right now what significance each day has, since I haven’t done the research yet (and in the year since I wrote this original post, I haven’t bothered to yet — but I’m sure that a good academic intellectual friend would be happy to oblige me), but I like the idea of celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas because it diffuses the penultimate meaning we attach to the one singular day, December 25th. If I had a family, it would be fun to have different little rituals for each of the twelve days. Also, spreading out gift giving over the twelve days would be a good idea (or not having any gift giving at all?) –but, I know, it’s hard to imagine not having children sitting or asleep in piles of gift wrap and boxes on Christmas morning, like in A Christmas Story.  However, I think this would relieve the feeling that, when we wake up on December 25th, we’d awaken to something truly amazing and special, when in reality, for most of us, it’s just another day, which is a gift and a grace in and of itself, but seems insipid and pale when compared to what Norman Rockwell has conditioned us to expect. So let’s distribute the weight of these expectations so that it can be spread out across twelve days… and then Twelvetide culminates in the Feast of the Epiphany, which is the celebration of the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. I’d say that is a big deal. On this day, January 6th, Western Christians [used to] commemorate the visit of the Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of_the_Epiphany)

Anyhow, since everyone likes fun little acronyms, I vote we abbreviate the Twelve Days of Christmas as “12dXmas”, then people can tweet about it using #12dXmas, and we can be cool like that.


Now on to the matter of Boxing Day, December 26th. Boxing Day isn’t a religious holiday, but I really like what it stood for — basically it was about charity for those in need (however, in modern days in the British Commonwealth, it is now a day of shopping frenzy with post-Xmas sales rivaling Black Friday.)

The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in places of worship in order to collect donations to the poor…

In Britain, it was a custom for tradesmen to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year… This custom is linked to an older English tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts and bonuses, and sometimes leftover food.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing_Day

I do contend that returning to the original ethos of Boxing Day would help remove the focus from ourselves and make it more outwardly focused, more noble, more virtuous, more in line with what Christ would want the celebration of his birth to be about (maybe the truest gift to Christ is to honor Him through our giving to those in need).

So these are my thoughts on how to redeem Christmas. Happy Christmas to you, on this third day of Christmas, marking the Feast of St. John the Evangelist and Apostle!