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Make the most of the 12 days of Christmastide


Experience faith, fun — and a deeper meaning of Christ’s birth

By Traci Smith | Presbyterians Today

Girl holding 2 candy canes to make the shape of a heart.

Brigitte Tohm/Pexels

I’ll never understand why poinsettias are 50% off in the store on Dec. 26. Why have we decided that their red and green glory is only half as valuable on that day as the day before? I’ve long had a soft spot for these poinsettias, throwing them in the cart after Christmas Day and rescuing them from church dumpsters. I keep them around as long as I can. The same is true of the Christmas lights, the tree and all of the decorations. Christmas isn’t over on Dec. 26.

In the Christian liturgical calendar, Christmas is celebrated from Dec. 25 until Jan. 6, the day of Epiphany. The days in between are what we call the 12 Days of Christmas. For many Presbyterians, though, the only connection we have to the 12 days of Christmas is the song about all of the things “my true love gave to me,” including the drummers drumming, the pipers piping, the golden rings and, of course, the partridge in a pear tree. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song has a long and complicated history, with some historians citing that each “gift” represents some aspect of the Christian faith. Many, though, think the song was designed as a sort of game for singers to test memory and recall. It’s a fun song, to be sure, but what if the 12 days of Christmas meant much more than a song? What if we could allow these days of Christmas to be holy time to celebrate after the rest of society has decided to pack it up, discount it and move on to something else?

As a pastor and a parent, I’ve come to relish the 12 days of Christmas. Teaching my children that there are 12 days of Christmas allows me precious time to create and build family traditions after the hustle and bustle of Christmas Day. The busiest season of the church year is over, and now we have time and space to continue to celebrate Christ’s birth as a family — not late, but right on time. It’s during the 12 days of Christmas that we drive around and look at the lights, enjoy the nativity scene and sit around in our pajamas drinking hot chocolate.

If you’ve never had a “12 days of Christmas” practice before, I encourage you to give it a try this year. Consider Christmas Day to be the beginning of your celebration. Spend time not cleaning up and moving on, but lingering for a while in the holiness of Christ’s birth.

One of the things we do as a family is to hold back some of the gifts and give them to each other on the days between Dec. 25 and Jan. 6. Nobody has been given a turtledove or a French hen yet, but my children have been delighted to unwrap boxes of chocolate and Matchbox cars on those days. I daresay they’ve appreciated them more than they might have if they had been thrown under the tree with all the rest on Christmas morning.

Little trinkets sprinkled throughout the 12 days of Christmas are reminders that each gift we give is precious. Most precious, of course, are the nonmaterial gifts we share during these days — time to enjoy God’s blessing of family and friendship, and the Advent gifts of hope, peace, joy and love. Making Christmas a season will give yourself and your family the gift of time and reflection. You might even find a poinsettia or two, discarded by others, to bring Christmas joy into your home.

Traci Smith is a PC(USA) pastor and author of three books on faith and family. Her latest book is “Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred.” Learn more at

Tips for Living liturgically

  • Celebrate the season with a “12 Days of Christmas Togetherness Challenge,” where your family decides on something special to do together each day during the 12 days of Christmas.
  • Throughout the season of Advent, make a list of all of the Christmas activities you’d like to do, such as driving around to see Christmas lights, watching Christmas movies or making Christmas cookies. Do one of the activities on each of the 12 days of Christmas, rather than trying to cram them all in during Advent.
  • Surprise a neighbor with a homemade treat or gift on one of the days of Christmas and delight them with a card that reads “Happy First Day of Christmas … Happy Second Day of Christmas” and so forth.
  • For an extra challenge, give gifts to 12 people.

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