Use the 12 Days of Christmas For Quiet and Togetherness

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

The familiar Carol is as follows:

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,

“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.

Mental prep for the seasons

About a week ago our 7-month old started waking every 45 minutes. This happened for two nights in a row. The second night we experience two some blessed hour-and-a-half stretches. Soon after her first tooth in the top row came through. It takes a while for me to catch back up on sleep, thus that lack of creative work and creative writing. But, so as not to neglect you, here is a look back on Thanksgiving and Christmas decorating. Naturally I have been reflecting on the past as I plan what we will do in this new home, this new year.

I love Thanksgiving. I love feasts and I love setting the table for those feasts. Last year we hosted Thanksgiving which was a decision good and bad. The good? Take a look…

DSCN3041I ordered a dark blue with gold-painted table runner from West Elm after seeing it featured in Real Simple reasonably priced (thus beginning my current love affair with West Elm; I’ve purchased one thing since).

My wonderful husband spray painted pumpkins from our patch with gold, silver and bronze paint. I laid out dark blue damask stripe napkins and found some walnut branches from the clippings outside. For me that last step “made it.”

DSCN3043I used brown velvet ribbon to tie the silverware together, laid on top of the napkin and silver chargers. Half-yard pieces of fabric from Rainbow Fabrics (a local amazing store) grounded the centerpiece on the oval table. I used to love to do the formal settings with silverware all in its proper place, but with the advent of toddlers such a setting never makes it straight to dinner time.

DSCN3044The bad, or rather difficult from that Thanksgiving came with having two children under age three and being pregnant with the third, hosting not one, but two sides of the family, and having a generous family member bring a bird that was too big for the roaster. So not all things worked out. Both sides of the family are more casual than our little nucleus of a family, and did no revel in the use of china and real silver. Other than the table settings, I have more “difficult” memories than good. That’s life and learning. My secret to hosting parties now: don’t cook! It seems to go smoother that way (read: less stressful). I’m also not hosting Thanksgiving this year. Instead, in our little family we plan to have an un-Thanksgiving menu on Wednesday: rotisserie duck, mashed sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and Brandy Alexander Pie. We’ll still be thankful, but with a new menu, the day before, and do the family thing on Thursday.

After Thanksgiving comes shopping (as you know from my previous post). I am Catholic. As a Catholic, the Christmas season follows Christmas with the 12 days of Christmas (Christmas day to Epiphany, celebrating when the Wise Men brought gifts to the Infant). Prior to Christmas is Advent, a time of preparation. So we prepare, but we don’t pretend it’s Christmas.

That’s all well and good, but I also grew up in the world and its difficult to hold off on certain decorating, certain music, certain food (read: candy, cookies) because it’s all so sentimental and wonderful. No snow here means the outside doesn’t get decorated into a winter wonderland, so its up to the interiors to fulfill the job.

The compromise: winter decorating.

In reality, I’m not sure where one ends and the other begins, and as I write this, I’m not sure it matters because my preferred decorations are rather neutral. Early in our marriage my husband stated he would like a blue and silver Christmas tree. I began the search. Along with an antique store angel, here is what it came to last year. We bought a $25 tree and placed it on a table with a kid-gate around it to protect the ornaments. Not sure how to solve this dilemma this year: new house, greater child mobility.

photo 2 More from last year. In my love of antiques, I added a silver Christmas tree on this side table with silver tapers.

photo 1I made wreaths for first time using Christmas tree clippings, juniper and olive branches. We (my husband) spray painted found pine cones and I made the creche the focus for the room.

photo 3

I like the effect of the bright red satin bow. This year I’ll make them again, only better because I know more, and without juniper because I hated working with it and we don’t live near a juniper tree anymore.

photo 5I did my best with that home to make an “entrance.” There were no wood doors, only sliding glass doors in this dogtrot style home. For the exterior, along with crazy-expensive-to-run Christmas lights (definitely investing LED this year), we put up a giant Charlie Brown Christmas tree. If you look carefully you can see the red ornament at the end. I suppose I did that two years ago because I recognize the tree in it from our “come-and-cut” adventure. Come and cut in the cold and rain with your infant bundled and moby-ed. I think we had more fun going to Tracy Trees the following year, run by a Christian family here in town.

IMG_3821So this year we’ll go to Tracy trees, I’ll make at least one wreath and possibly a holiday (holy day?) banner, like this, and some German glitter homes like these. I’d show you more but the children are hungry and I can’t reveal all my secrets, now can I? More to come.