The Final Days of Christmas
Celebrating Twelve Days of Christmas is challenging. My brother recently reminded me that even God rested on the 7th day. Which is why this post is a couple weeks late. Everyone went back to school and work on January 3rd, as though the holiday never even happened. This return to routine is always a difficult transition for me. It’s as though we’ve spent two weeks in a Christmas vortex of sorts with no recognition of time or space and then we’re ripped out of the vortex and plopped back into life as usual, where there are bills to pay, groceries to buy and activities to get to. Keeping the twelve days through this transition is a challenge, but it’s also helpful in providing me a smooth exodus from holiday mode to regular mode. So how did we end our Christmas holiday?
New Year’s (7th & 8th Days of Christmas)
I’ve kept these days pretty loose over the years, largely depending on New Year’s Eve plans. Last year everyone in our family of five picked their favorite game to play and we played well into midnight. This year my husband and I did have plans, so I opted for building gingerbread, or should I say graham cracker houses, since finding a gingerbread kit a week after Christmas is nearly impossible. Being a teacher, I usually try to tie this project to their learning by challenging them to build a medieval castle, a colonial home or an Ancient wonder. But this year we picked out the candy in the bulk section of the grocery store and I let their imaginations run loose. I’m a bit surprised that the 14 and 18 year old still enjoy this tradition and take it as seriously as they do. Their creations are still sitting on our kitchen counter, except for the youngest’s which was quickly lost to the dog.
Apparently there was a conspiracy among the dogs to thwart many a plan this particular weekend as the New Year’s Day that was supposed to be a relaxed, pajama-wearing, game playing, black-eyed peas eatin’ Saturday turned into a nerve-wracking, prayer-filled, desperate-seeking, family search for my brother’s dog, who went missing as we ended a three mile walk onto the backside of our 17-acre ranch.
Elvis is a little terrier mix that loves to chase after rabbits and squirrels, which we have quite a few of and as the tracks in the fresh snow indicated were quite actively moving about. We don’t know if he saw a rabbit, began to chase it and got lost or what happened, but he was gone! We also have some pretty hungry coyotes roaming about. Just a few weeks before, I happened to hear one come right up to the house, grab a chicken and watched as it walked off into the brush with it. We also live within 1/2 a mile of a very busy state highway. So as all these dangers were running through our heads, along with the fact this short-haired, Texas dog, wasn’t use to cold temperatures and my brother had to fly back home in three days, our search turned more and more desperate as we knocked on doors surrounding our property and nearby neighborhoods. Hope stayed alive when a kind neighbor shared that he saw the dog running east across his property. My brother tracked the prints to the end of the road and after another hour of searching as the sun was beginning to set, he finally dialed non-emergency 911. He described the dog and not five minutes later the sheriff called back with fantastic news! A group of Good Samaritans saw Elvis running very fast down the highway and they made a concerted effort of using all their vehicles to keep him safe from the speeding traffic. He was safely returned, but as we searched, I kept thinking this is NOT how this year can begin! The first day of a new year that we all hope and pray will be an improvement upon the last few. But thankfully a new beginning that could’ve ended in tragic sadness, ended in hope. So we sat down with our black-eyed peas still hopeful for what 2022 might bring.
The 9th Day of Christmas
What to do with the last day of vacation for the kids and myself? I had planned a snowshoe outing for New Year’s Eve day, but my father, a retired meteorologist, suggested we put that off a day or two since a big storm was in the works. He was right, as he most often is. Sunday was a perfect day to be in and see the mountains. I wasn’t sure if everyone in my family would be down for a 1.5 mile snowshoe trek, but they all showed up at the mountain in the appropriate gear and though some lagged behind on this ranger led adventure, they managed to get their own personal tour with the ranger who lagged behind with them.
10th-12th Days of Christmas
Once back to school, activities and work, we don’t come together as a family until after seven o’clock each night, so these days became the gift-giving days. I forced everyone to stay in their rooms while I hid clues around the house, sometimes individual clues to each present hid in a different location and sometimes clues they all had to work together to find. So days ten and eleven concluded with a gift to wear and a gift they wanted.
On the twelfth day we finally revealed our Secret Santas, which of course weren’t much of a secret. The rules for Secret Santas are that we can’t draw ourselves and we can’t draw the same person we had the previous year. This meant we redrew many, many times, but every time I drew I got the same name, must’ve been fate…until the last draw. Unfortunately the last name I drew was NOT the name in my head as I did all my Secret Santa shopping on the 3rd Day. My faux pas was quickly discovered when I realized there was an empty stocking. Thankfully some of the treats purchased for the person I thought I had were also appropriate for the one I actually had. Crisis averted! Until we discovered that my my husband’s stocking was also empty and my daughter was getting double gifts! Another one of us made the same mistake! I remedied the situation immediately the next day and stockpiled treats for the two empty stockings, but now it wasn’t hard to figure out who else made the mistake and didn’t take long through the process of elimination to figure out whose Secret Santa everybody had. But this family of actors is getting really good at pretending not to know who their Secret Santa is and I think the pretense has also become part of the tradition.
Day of Epiphany
According to many church calendars, the celebration of Christmas concludes with the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th. This is the day we remember the journey of the Magi and the three gifts they bring to Jesus, not in the manger as is depicted in many a nativity set, but quite a while later. Different cultures celebrate this day in different ways and for some this marks the gift-giving portion of the holiday season with the Christmas season stretching to Feb 2nd or Candlemas, which commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the temple. Candlemas marks the official end of the Christmas season and in many Christian cultures is when the decorations are taken down. Unbeknownst to me I’ve already been honoring this tradition as it takes me the entire month of January to slowly undecorate my house. But for the Feast of Epiphany one is supposed to hide a bean in a King cake. I like the idea of cake, but without time to prepare one, I bought a small cake, affixed the three kings to it and we opened some Christmas crackers. No bean and not a huge undertaking, but a simple way to mark the day and the end of this portion of the Christmas season…on to “regular” life.
Over the last couple years, the evangelical church we attend has gone more liturgical and is holding to the rhythms of the common church calendar. They mark Advent, the two Sundays of Christmas and the days of Epiphany. This time of Epiphany in recent years has been a time of reflection for me, a time of focus and intentionality. Not unlike setting resolutions at the start of a New Year, this time of Epiphany gives me a season to reflect and think about the things I want more and less of in the coming year. A few years ago I came about the concept of “hygge” and found that this Danish way of living really resonated with me, probably due to my own Danish roots or it could be my introverted nature that loves home. So in the last few years “Hygge” is what I mark January with, but as I reflect on Epiphany this season I am noticing how my practice of “Hygge” and “Epiphany” complement and inform one another, but more on that in another post.