How to celebrate all 12 days of Christmas (minus partridges)

How to celebrate all 12 days of Christmas (minus partridges)

Twelfth Night update: So the twelve days of Christmas are almost over… but in my defense, I’ve been busy celebrating with family! I’ve also been contemplating how to mark the days between stockings and kings, especially if you’re not particularly fond of medieval saints. 

I think I’ve got it, at least for next year! Today, there’s still time to bake a cake and pick a king or queen for the year… 

Twelve Days of Christmas 9p stamp

My family always focused on the pre-Christmas holidays, from laying out shoes for St Nicholas’ Day to bringing sweet rolls around the house on St Lucia’s Day. One year, we even opened small gifts for each of the twelve days before American Christmas, presumably so we’d be more settled on the day itself.

But tradition has it that Christmas starts with the infant’s birth (December 25) and goes for twelve more days of prayer and parties. Here’s my update on how to celebrate:

1. Christmas

Dec 25. Make this a low-key day for family and faith, and save presents for the last day. (This also lets you buy presents and sweets when they go on post-Christmas sales).

To start off the twelve days, light candles or a yule log which you’ll burn each day (but don’t follow the alternate tradition of hiding presents under the yule log if you do that! 12/25.

2. Boxing Day

Dec 26. In the middle ages, churches opened their alms boxes and gave money to poor families for the winter months. In the 1800s, British families gave bonuses to service workers and gifts to small children. But presents weren’t for everyone. “A ‘box’ was a present from a superior to an inferior… not something exchanged between equals.”

In this spirit, consider boxing up things you haven’t used before putting new things away. Give a struggling family near you food or utilities for the winter months.

Or, follow the British tradition and put on a pantomime—a comedic play—for friends and relatives. (Good assignment for kids hopped up on candy!).

3. St. John’s Day

Dec 27. John was one of Jesus’ closest and most beloved friends. Celebrate friendship by getting together with a good friend, giving them a call, or writing a letter to reconnect.

4. Feast of the Innocents

Dec 28. On Childermas, reflect on the tale of Joseph and Mary fleeing as refugees with the baby Jesus—and on the innocent children who could not escape and were killed. Look up how you can help refugees or immigrants today.

5. Day of Warmth

Dec 29. Today, orthodox Christians remember those who died from hunger, violence, and freezing.

Consider making blankets, hats, socks, or scarves for homeless people, inviting someone to stay with you in a warm home, or donating warm clothes to those in need.

6. Feast of the Holy Family

Dec 30. (Can also be celebrated on Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s). This baby wouldn’t have survived without his family, including bio mom, adoptive dad, and half-brothers James, Joses, Jude, and Simon, as well as several sisters.

How can you reach out and create family, or support others, this evening?

7. New Year’s Eve

Dec 31. My German-American family ate sauerkraut and sausage for new year’s, while Italian-Americans eat coin-shaped lentils and sausage to bring in the money. (Pigs look forward, so folks say they give good luck). You can also celebrate the medieval way with sporting and archery competitions.

8. World Day of Peace

Jan 1. Today’s either the feast of circumcision for baby Jesus (ouch!), or… the World Day of Peace, when the pope tells us how the world should be, re: “human rights, women’s rights, labor unions, economic development, the right to life, and international diplomacy.”

This sounds like a great day to write your own manifesto.

If you actually want peace, you might reconnect with a friend, or invite someone new to join you in a fun activity.

9. Feast of St Basil and St Gregory

Jan 2. I want to call this “bro day.” Known as two bodies with one soul, St. Basil and St. Gregory share this feast day, as two schoolboys who later became bishops in the early Christian church together.

Do you have a goal for the year that would be better together? Someone passionate about similar things? Invite them to work together with you on a project today.

10. Feast of the Holy Name

Jan 3. Celebrates when baby Jesus was named, on the recommendation of an angel.

Most of us aren’t so… divinely inspired, but today would be a fun day to read up on names. What does yours mean? Where does it come from? How popular is your name? What happened to Gertrude? Or, take the time to pull out genealogy charts and tell family stories about your names.

11. Braille Day

Jan 4. Catholics celebrate America’s first saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton, who started schools for the poor. Today’s also Braille Day, in honor of the blind child who started a whole new way to read, Louis Braille.

Consider joining an app like Be My Eyes to volunteer to help blind people read things, or volunteer to transcribe images for museums.  This lets folks who can’t see or hear “read” so much more.

12. Twelfth Night

Jan 5. Yes, today. It’s Epiphany Eve today, and time to cook and serve a King’s Cake. Whoever finds the dried bean is the Lord or Lady of Misrule, and social rules are turned upside down. This echoes the ancient Roman Saturnalia, where slaves told off freemen and children could talk back to parents.

In Mexico, some children leave out a shoe with hay or dried grass, and a bowl of water for the three kings’ incoming animals. It’s like St. Nicholas’ Day all over again!

Three King’s Day!

It’s January 6th, and the wise men have finally arrived. Astrologers saw new stars when Jesus was born, but it took them a while to show up. If you’ve held off on presents, today the kings come with gifts to your house.


PS: Candlemas. Hopefully you took down your tree by Twelfth night… or you have to keep it up until February 2nd. Mary brings her infant for a blessing forty days after he’s born, closing out the Christmas season. Some churches bless candles–I suppose you could bless your electronics–and then settle in for the rest of the long winter nights.

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