I was not expecting a second part when I wrote my earlier post about simplifying our Christmas decorating a bit now that our children are increasingly away from home. Adapting to changing circumstances by doing less actually brought more satisfaction with the holiday, we discovered. Conversely, our daughter’s brief return home over the weekend from her service trip to Africa prompts me to appreciate anew how tradition also creates an infrastructure even in the midst of change.
We began intentionally celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas when our children were fairly young. This decision flowed partially from our desire to observe four weeks of Advent, but also as a practical approach to living in our hometown with lots of extended family to visit on the two big days, Dec. 24-25. Rather than rush the kids through presents on Christmas morning, we’d spread them out through the days. My favorite guru of religious education in the home, Gertrud Mueller Nelson, provides an appealing vision of this custom in To Dance with God. It is weird to many people, but it works for us, especially since my husband teaches in a Catholic school and has a break when the kids do. Counter-intuitively perhaps, I believe this approach actually de-emphasizes the material aspect of gift giving by heightening ritual awareness.
Kieran returned from her trip on the eve of Epiphany, so our plan was always to celebrate the 12th day of Christmas with her. I didn’t realize until we returned from the airport and began bringing out her gifts, etc., how meaningful it would feel. The dinner menu was takeout pizza (Kieran’s request), but almost without thinking, I pulled out the holiday plates, red cloth napkins and some party poppers I had left in the cupboard to spruce up the table and turned on Christmas music. With little real effort, suddenly it was Christmas, shining and radiant, illuminating God in our midst, with Kieran’s gifts to us from Africa a tangible reminder of the feast.