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How our family celebrates all 12 days of Christmas

Friends, Christmas,

© Antonio Guillem I Shutterstock

Fr. Michael Rennier - published on 12/27/20

Christmas is an entire season! Here are some creative ideas to extend the enjoyment.

When it comes to the timing of Christmas, our family seems to be at odds with the world. While we’re patiently maintaining a joyful Advent – or at least trying to be patient – everyone else has fast-forwarded to Christmas. I’m not judging anyone, just noting the difference, which I think comes from our family attempting to deepen our Catholic identity. In the Catholic tradition, most of December is Advent, and Christmas bursts upon us suddenly and, dare I say it, miraculously, on Christmas Eve.

Because we’re busy lighting Advent wreath candles and singing O Come O Come Emmanuel, we don’t put up a Christmas tree until about a week before Christmas. For the most part, I’m comfortable being considered eccentric and don’t mind when my way of doing things is slightly different, but I do admit I was dismayed when, several years ago, our family pulled up to the Christmas tree farm, full of energy to cut down our own tree, and the entire place was closed for the year. It was only December 17. Literally everyone else on the planet had shown up weeks before and taken all the trees, sat on Santa’s lap, and drunk all the hot chocolate.

So now we’re reduced to carrying on with an artificial tree or buying one of the final remaining pre-cut trees from a parking lot by the highway. My wife is desperate for a real tree but I’m secretly happy to not have to deal with the hassle this year. Little annoyances like this form the downside to trying to respect Advent as a season and waiting longer into December to begin Christmas.

Here’s the upside, though: The day after Christmas, when the alley behind our house is littered with discarded pine trees and all our neighbors are sick of the holiday and ready to move on, we’re just getting started. There are 12 full days of Christmas, stretching from December 25 to January 6 when we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. In my humble opinion, it would be a real shame to not make it that long with the Christmas celebrations. After all, we can’t quit before the Wise Men even arrive!

My wife has made celebrating all 12 days of Christmas her personal challenge, and she comes up with all sorts of creative ideas to make it fun for the kids. Most of her ideas strive to include the whole family. Here are some of her best ideas to date:

Gingerbread house decoration

Obviously this can be done before Christmas, too. Many of our suggestions can. Either way, it’s a great family activity.

Camel rides

This one may be specific to our particular area, but it’s incredibly fun if you can find something like this. At the National Shrine of Our Lady of Snows, which isn’t far from where we live, every year there’s a light display and a petting zoo. Catholics run the place, so it stays open all 12 days of Christmas and the crowds are way smaller after December 25.

New board games

The family as a whole receives the gift of a board game and we all play together.

Hot chocolate movie night

I pretty much insist on watching Home Alone every year.

Ice skating

Nothing is more magical than ice skating at an outdoor rink in the winter.

Mass for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God

During the 12 days, there are many opportunities to make the season special by going to Mass, whether that be the Mass for Mary on January 1, going to a midnight Mass on New Year’s Eve, or going to Mass on Epiphany.

Epiphany chalk

Speaking of Epiphany, be sure to get blessed chalk and mark the door of your house with a blessing.

12th Night Party

The 12th night after Christmas is a great time to have a party. We always like to have some people over and sing a few Christmas carols (this year, not so much, but you get the point). Then, because I’m a middle-aged, tired father of six, the night ends by 9 p.m.

I’m sure there are lots more ideas out there. What’s important is that, whatever we do to celebrate, we’re doing it together, recognizing that Christmas isn’t simply one, frenzied morning of tearing wrapping paper off presents and then collapsing into a stupor. It’s a season that we prepare for all through Advent and then joyously celebrate for 12 full days. It may seem odd to some people to do it this way, but your family will be having too much fun to notice!


Read more:
A visual guide to the 12 Days of Christmas

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