During Advent we celebrated each evening as we counted down the days until Christmas. Then we had the added pleasure of watching the excitement in our children’s eyes as they gathered around the Christmas tree before retiring for the night for twelve days after this great holiday event. It thrilled our hearts anew as we celebrated the Christ Child all over again.
I read an article many years ago which detailed how a woman gave gifts anonymously to friends and strangers (who lived in her apartment building) for the twelve days before Christmas. On the first day she left a casserole at the door of a family who needed a meal. On the second day she left two loaves of bread for another. On the third, there were three coloring books for the children; the fourth there were four books to read. I’m sure by now you get the picture. She was offering acts of kindness for each of the twelve days of Christmas. I liked her idea, but living in the country created it’s own set of problems.
As I mulled the article over in my mind, (which has a history of going in odd directions!) I considered the time and effort we all put into making the Christmas holiday an extraordinary event. The planning for the meal, shopping for gifts, wrapping, decorating, baking and the list goes on. It occurred to me, we do all these “things” for a single day. In one fast mind-warping moment, the gifts are opened, inspected and laid aside. The living room is littered with the pretty paper, ribbons and bows while boxes are tossed about and pieces of the many gifts are both near and far away from the excited recipients.
It seems suddenly, in a mere breath, Christmas is over. Finished! All that is left is the clean up! Somehow I was overwhelmed with sadness. After reading the article of the anonymous gift giving, I decided to customize it for my family, with perhaps a bizarre twist. I decided rather than letting Christmas “end” on Christmas day, each child would have a single gift to open for the twelve days after Christmas! My husband wasn’t a participant the first year, because honestly, he thought me nuts! But after he saw the joy the little ones had, he joined in the next year and all those thereafter!
The gifts weren’t large or expensive but our family was able to extend the “thrill” of Christmas for a time afterwards. Understand we had five children, so the gifts were pencils, paper, small toys, note pads, index cards or other items the children needed. Additionally, most of the gifts (sixty at that time) were wrapped in recycled paper from the year before. So each night, we all gathered around the tree and the children took turns with great delight in choosing just the right gift to hand to each of their siblings. Even as they got older, each one looked forward to what we called "the 12 day gifts!"
Now, with the children grown with little people of their own, my husband and I still have the “twelve day tradition.” And our children….. well ....they now carry on the tradition with their children. What a special time of celebration. It is the season of giving. It’s the time of sharing the love of family and the Christ Child.