Christmas is a season, not just a day, in spite of the consumer-driven, gift-focused frenzy that surrounds December 25th. There is one calendar we are used to keeping time by, but as followers of Jesus, the church calendar provides a Christ-centered focus for our days. In the church year the Christmas season is marked by the birth of Christ as it should be, but that is only the beginning of the holidays.
The Twelve Days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day ending on Epiphany January 6th. The season of Twelvetide (as it is sometimes called) is a slow walk into the new year and beyond, ending with the celebration marking the appearance of Magi at the site of the Christ Child. Epiphany means ‘showing forth’ or ‘manifestation,’ and was at one time the day on the church calendar that marked the feast of Christmas. Many orthodox and traditional churches still live out this practice of acknowledging the Twelve Days of “in-between,” slowing down the season of Christmas.
However, as our culture often does, veering away from the sacred and turning towards the fun, these twelve days are marked predominantly by a popular rhyme and song more than anything else. The song is sung during the Christmas season, ironically, not during the twelve days it represents. (There’s a link to a fun poster of the 12 Days HERE on the website for my book “Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas.”)
BUT TWELVE DAYS? REALLY?
Maybe you think stretching out the days between Christmas and Epiphany is more like stretching out the stress. It’s the day after Christmas, and you are done with celebrating, done with gifting, and you’re ready to move on to the year ahead.
But consider the built-in wisdom afforded by Twelvetide—a centuries-old practice desperately needed today when we want to over-accelerate our lives. Grown-ups and children alike can all use some help readjusting to the new normal of a coming year that isn’t packed with busy-ness, parties and presents.
We can’t keep Christmas with us all year, but maybe a gradual return to normalcy could help alleviate the sudden crash. A slow journey through the Twelve Days can allow the time to process our feelings about the presence of our family and friends–not just the presents. Decluttering and un-Christmasing during the twelve days of Christmas also combines handwork with heartwork–there’s something about physical movement that provides needed ‘think time.’
So, on this, the third or fourth day (depending on how you count) day of Christmas, take an extra moment to breathe. And goodness knows, in these days of dealing with all things covid, it sometimes feels like breathing is all we can do.
Give yourself permission to un-Christmas slowly and walk into the new year with hope. Epiphany is waiting—the Feast Day on the Church Calendar marking the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles.
When the Magi came and saw the King in the manger, they left as God’s messengers that the Savior was finally here, that God is indeed Emmanuel–GOD WITH US. Epiphany is the sending point of Christmas, not the ending.
We’re his messengers now.
This post is adapted from Chapter Seven of my book “Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas.” “We’re his messengers now” is a nod to the Christmas special with The Chosen, ‘The Messengers.”