As the Vince Guaraldi song chimes in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
Christmas time is here
Families drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year.
You have done it: the hustle, the bustle, the Christmas baskets and Christmas shopping, the delivering, the Santa-ing, the cooking, the baking, the stocking hung by the chimney with care, the office parties and white elephant gift exchanges. As far as the commercial world is concerned, Christmas is over.
But nay, says I. Christmas preparation with its hustle and bustle are over. Now (December 25) begins
The 12 Days of Christmas
On the first day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
(The song then adds a gift for each day, building on the verse before it, until you’re reciting all 12 gifts together)
…two turtle doves
…three French hens
…four calling birds
…five gold rings
…six geese a-laying
…seven swans a-swimming
…eight maids a-milking
…nine ladies dancing
…10 lords a-leaping
…11 pipers piping
…12 drummers drumming
We do not mean this literally. As Andy demonstrated in “The Office” when he gifts the gifts described in the song. There are too many birds.
Traditionally, the 12 Days count from Christmas Day (the celebration of the birth of Christ) to Epiphany, when the Wise Men arrived to bring gifts, also called Three Kings’ Day. There is an important lapse of time because no woman is ready to hop on a donkey and go to Egypt immediately after giving birth.
According to Tanya Pai over at Vox.com,
“The earliest known version first appeared in a 1780 children’s book called ‘Mirth With-out Mischief’…the song most of us are familiar with today comes from an English composer named Frederic Austin; in 1909, he set the melody and lyrics and added as his own flourish the drawn-out cadence of ‘five go-old rings.’”
Snopes investigated if there is some hidden Christian message in the song, and it is unlikely. More likely is a sung game, testing the memories of those participating, which sounds about right.
Whatever the song origin, the Days remain and can be used as the popular Advent Calendar, to keep us focus when distraction comes easier. The days following Christmas could be used for travel, after-Christmas sales, or catching up on all the projects left behind during fall when school was in full swing, or each day you could open one door or packet as you did with the Advent Calendar and pause, focus in a moment to silence, and have a treat.
Some present actual sweets to their children during the 12 Days, others individual gifts. I recommend considering a simple list of activities that promote either silence or stillness. If you take New Years’ as a time of remembrance and reflection, the stillness the week prior comes in handy.
Suggested Activities for 12 Days of Christmas
- Day 1: Christmas Day! No doubt you have your own traditions here.
- Day 2: A shared meal together of leftovers (no cooking!)
- Day 3: Nature walk (weather permitting) get outside with someone and walk the blocks or park
- Day 4: Read silently (with or without others around) on paper for at least 30 minutes.
- Day 5: Take 5 minutes with the family to silently make a list of blessings from 2019.
- Day 6: Take 5 with the family to silently make a list of areas in which you’d like to grow during 2020.
- Day 7: Add to your list one wish for the New Year. Enjoy sharing your wish with others after breaking open champagne or sparkling cider.
- Day 8: Put off the protein-rich, breakfast. Take a long morning with coffee and pastries instead.
- Day 9: Enjoy a leftover Christmas cookie with a child, chatting while you eat it.
- Day 10: Play a board game or outdoor game (weather permitting).
- Day 11: Sit around the fire or Christmas tree (leave it up! It’s still Christmas!) and read a story to someone (I recommend “The Gift of the Magi” by O Henry to an adult). Epiphany is the next day!
- Day 12: Sing the 12 Days of Christmas.
However, long or short your time for rest this season. However, much or little you engage in the wild festivities that overwhelmed American culture every 25th of December, take a moment between 2019 and 2020 to be still, grateful and hopeful for the coming year.