By Marla A. Schultz
Each year, as soon as the weather begins to cool, I begin thinking about Christmas. I love the idea of counting down the days using an Advent calendar carefully sewn … or created with scrapbook paper … or hewn out of a log … or whatever. I have dozens of pins on Pinterest highlighting a myriad of ways to create these calendars—as well as suggestions for creating delightful Christmas presents, gorgeous table decorations, and homemade pajamas.
Unfortunately, time to craft is as elusive as the White Stag in Narnia. If I had the ability to harness this thing called “craft time,” I would have finished my third daughter’s baby quilt by now—she’s ten—and actually made quilts for two of my other six children.
Most of my holiday ideas remain dreams and I usually end up a little disappointed. The practical side of me would like to delete my “Christmas is Coming” board on my Pinterest page, along with the one for Thanksgiving—don’t ask me about the scrapbook paper turkeys I forced my children to make a couple of years ago because of a Pinterest post—and admit that 95 percent of those cute ideas will never come to fruition. But my creative—and ever hopeful—side triumphs each time and I continue to pin, plan, and dream.
In my perfect world, the tree would be put up and decorated on December 5—the day before St. Nicholas Day—and we would already be counting down the days until Christmas. Instead, by the time the thirteenth of December rolls around, I’m finally ready to start that countdown.
Because of this, many years ago we stumbled into our own tradition—our take on the Twelve Days of Christmas. Traditionally the Twelve Days of Christmas starts on December 25 and the twelfth day lands on January 5. On January 6 many cultures celebrate “Three Kings Day” or “The Feast of the Epiphany” which commemorates the “manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi.” In some countries and among the Amish, January 6 is referred to as Little Christmas and also marks the end of the Christmas holidays.
When my oldest children were little my mom found a set of twelve boxes with beautiful illustrations representing each of the days in The Twelve Days of Christmas song. The largest box was for the twelfth day; the smallest for the first. In addition she came across a tract, created to hand out at Christmas time as an introduction to the Gospel, which utilized the song to share the supposed meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Since then I’ve come across websites that dispute these hidden meanings, but for years I’ve used it to add an extra layer of meaning to our holiday season.
For example, according to this tract and other sources, the Partridge in a Pear Tree represents Jesus; the two French hens signify the Old and New Testaments; the five gold rings are the Torah—otherwise known as the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible—and the ten Lords A-Leaping represent the Ten Commandments.
Whether or not the song was meant to be interpreted this way, I’ve found it to be a fun and helpful way to add more Biblical and church knowledge to our holiday. Mnemonics are a great way to learn.
In addition to bringing meaning to these twelve days, we typically wrap up a family gift in each of the boxes. To prevent peeking, I slip a gift into the box right before gathering for family time. The smallest box usually holds a simple gift like Lindt chocolate truffles or another kind of candy—one for each person—and, as the boxes become larger each day, the gift sometimes—but not necessarily—becomes bigger or more expensive.
Some of the family gifts we’ve enjoyed are gingerbread houses, books, DVDs, and games. Other times we’ve bought simple individual gifts that were similar, such as an ornament for each child or coloring books and crayons. Some years—when money has been very tight—we’ve allowed them to open a family gift from a relative on one of the days. It’s still a gift, even if it’s not from us. I haven’t done it before, but the last gift—given on Christmas Eve—could hold new pajamas for your children.
If buying more gifts sounds exhausting and a strain on the budget, consider wrapping up twelve Christmas books and opening one each day to read together as a family. Vary the length so you’re not committing to hours of reading each night. It could be a picture book like The Candymaker’s Gift which tells the legend of the candy cane, a revised version of A Christmas Carol, or even a book that isn’t a Christmas book, but contains Biblical principles like The Quiltmaker’s Gift.* The wonderful part of this idea is that many of these books can be borrowed from your local library and then returned after Christmas—less clutter.
We typically start our Twelve Days of Christmas on December 13, instead of 14, and open the twelfth gift (or book) on Christmas Eve. Because we’ve revamped this tradition to meet our needs, we can choose how we celebrate. I personally like to start on the thirteenth because of St. Lucia Day. We’ve only celebrated this day the traditional way once or twice, but because St. Lucia was—according to tradition—a Christian martyr, it opens up the opportunity to talk about Roman Christians during Paul’s lifetime and how they were faithful to Christ no matter what the cost. Some of my children’s favorite DVDs that go along with this theme are Focus on the Family’s Story Keepers series. To begin your countdown, you could watch one of these, talk about St. Lucia and other Christian martyrs, and take the opportunity to remember and pray for those who are being persecuted for their Christian faith around the world.
There are so many things you can include in your celebration, but no matter how you choose to prepare for this special time of the year, remember to focus on Jesus and His Gift to us. Don’t allow all the trappings of the season to become a trap that draws you away from Him.
It’s all about Jesus.
Marla Schultz is the mother of six children. An avid reader, she is especially fond of children’s literature. Marla graduated with a B.A. in Bible and Communications Arts and an emphasis in Literature from a Bible college in Missouri. She stays busy homeschooling and working from home, as well as writing fiction in her spare time.
*You can find my literature kit based on The Quiltmakers’ Gift in the Cranberry Christmas e-book offered FREE through The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.