Celebrating Christmas as an adult looks and feels drastically different when I reflect on my childhood. Some of you may have seen me write that I did not grow up in a particularly Catholic household, and if I'm being honest it wasn't really Catholic at all. Nonetheless it was filled with the warmth of baking, the beauty of decorations like you've never seen, and neighborhood cheer. In fact, I remember a small town Christmas shop that we used to visit every year to buy lovely new ornaments and glittery trinkets. We did what everyone else does, after Thanksgiving we immediately put everything out and right after Christmas we took it all down. Christmas songs played in the car all December, especially the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but that too stopped after celebrating the birth of Christ. December 26th had great strength and it snapped us right back into ordinary days without warning! Somehow our culture developed this pattern and many American families, like my own, have been misinformed to live by it.
In what only grace can accomplish, I was given a gift of not just being informed by our culture, but by the Catholic Church, a Catholic college education, and then a Masters in Theology which opened my eyes to a world of knowing and expressing God's love like I had not experienced before. It was in those years that I learned more about how to quietly prepare myself during Advent while the world is jumping into festivity, and to truly celebrate during the Christmas season, that extends well beyond December 25th, while the world has gone back to its mundane routines. This isn't proven, but I think in general people have disconnected the birth of Christ with the profound theological reality that is the incarnation, God became a man! When Christmas is put into perspective, I think that we can all agree it deserves as much preparing and ongoing celebration as we can sincerely give it.
Oddly enough, even with knowing and believing all of this, it still takes some getting used to. Sometimes during Advent while I am striving to be more prayerful and penitential I find myself slightly jealous of those going all out on Christmas cheer. I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't allow myself to partake in it from time to time, but with sincerity, I strive to immerse myself in each season. And that is also true of Christmas, the octave, the 12 days, and the season. Much to our neighbors surprise, my tree stays up until February 2nd as we walk through the season of light.
Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas is something that I really like doing because it not only embraces the octave, but extends out to Epiphany which ends with the blessing of our home with chalk and the Italian tradition of making panettone.
Here are some things that we like to do that you should try too!
Day One: Drive around and see Christmas lights. I do this at the start because most people begin to quickly take them down so don't wait too long.
Day Two: Host a Christmas party. Invite friends and neighbors to come over to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Do a white elephant swap, play Christmas games, listen to Christmas music, make treats & eggnog.
Day Three: Build gingerbread houses. This year I made my own Gingerbread cutouts from scratch and we enjoyed sitting by the Christmas tree with coffee, gingerbread cookies, and cool whip to chat and relax.
Day Four: Watch a Christmas movie and make hot cocoa.
Day Five: Deliver Christmas cookies or pies to friends. This year we made a couple of pumpkin pies and an assortment of cookies and sweets that we boxed and delivered!
Day Six: Attend daily Mass. This is something that most families don't get to do because we are at work and the kids are at school, but find a day off within the 12 days to go together on a week day.
Day Seven: Puzzle & Game Day. We love doing this one, our family inevitably breaks out a card or board game while relaxing in our jammies.
Day Eight: Have your priest over for dinner. While this isn't the liturgical marathon that is holy week and Easter, it's still immensely busy! After Christmas, while they may have a couple of days off, take the opportunity to to enjoy a good meal together and have time for community.
Day Nine: As you get closer to the Epiphany, bundle up and go outside to stargaze. We like to do this off the back patio with a fire, a good book, and cup of hot coffee.
Day Ten: Go out to the theatre for a play or movie. My entire family used to do this, especially if there was a Star Wars movie coming out.
Day Eleven: Use the fireplace to roast s'mores!
Day Twelve: Bless your home with Epiphany chalk and make panettone. If you need a recipe just click here.
These are some of our favorite things to do and maybe not in the particular order but we look at our family's schedule and rearrange them to fit what we can do. As with all liturgical living things, we seek to find ways that authentically express our excitement and happiness for the season, and seek to not just "add more things" that will stress us out. I invite you to look at this list and do the same!
And for all the dinner and treat ideas, feel free to use this Catholic Christmas Table Prayer!
Praying for you and yours this Christmas season! Hoping that it's filled with lots of family time, delicious food, extra sleep, and most importantly... Christ.