Does it all feel like a blur? This December month we just journeyed through. In the midst of the paper and bows that went flying yesterday, do you feel like it happened all too quickly?
I was sitting with a friend at my kitchen table the beginning of last week, talking about how it has felt short, this time to prepare for Christmas. And it was friends. It was only 23 days long, this Advent season of preparation we had this year.
Many of you might have started your Christmas decorating and preparing the weekend after Thanksgiving. But me, I gloried in an extra week of Fall in our home. I tend to be a stickler when it comes to these holy days, following them as they are given to us. This year, Advent began on December 2nd, a whole week after Thanksgiving, and I appreciated the breathing room between these special holidays.
But a later start to Advent also condensed the time I had to prepare. Throw in Snow Storm Diego here in the South that added 4 snow days to the month with kids at home and a kid’s week-before-Christmas birthday to be celebrated, and suddenly I was way behind in the many Christmas activities I had planned to do.
By the week before Christmas, as I sat with my friend talking about how it is all going too quickly, and she shared that she hadn’t done all she wanted to do this Christmas season, the cookie making and Christmas light viewing, I reminded myself and her “It’s ok! We have the 12 Days of Christmas to celebrate! We have 11 more days after Christmas to do the things we felt got squeezed out in this month we pack full of so many things.”
You see friends, the way we are used to doing this Christmas thing in our culture is sometime in November the “Christmas Season” begins. (It seems to get earlier and earlier every year as I saw Christmas stuff up right after Halloween this year thanks to all the stores pushing Christmas on us sooner and sooner!) Lights begin to go up, Christmas trees are purchased and Christmas songs are heard around ever corner through the month of Dec. It all builds to a climax on the morning of December 25, when in a flurry of paper, bags and bows the gifts are open and everyone collapses in exhaustion. Christmas is over. People have a few days hopefully to recover before the New Year begins, and then people go back to their normal lives.
But did you know that in the traditional celebration of Christmas for generations of Christians, the pattern is the exact opposite!? In our Christian tradition, the Christmas season does not end on December 25, it is just beginning!
The season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and for nearly a month Christians await the coming of Christ in a spirit of expectation. Then, on December 25, Christmas Day itself ushers in twelve days of celebration ending only on January 6 with the feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the coming of the Magi (Yes, this is where the 12 Days of Christmas song has it’s origin, in these 12 days of celebration).
There are another 11 days of Christmas after Christmas Day friends, and this is good news, because as our culture moves on, we can linger with the story!
While traditional observance of the 12 Days of Christmas involves the celebration of particular saints on certain days, or the giving of gifts throughout the 12 days, the 12 Days of Christmas can give us a chance to slow down and take in the greatness of this gift that cannot be opened simply in one day.
It can provide an intentional space to reflect on the Incarnation and what it means in our lives. When you think about it friends, Christmas commemorates the most momentous event in human history—the entry of God into the world He made, in the form of a baby, out of love for us. Doesn’t it seem hard to contain that in one day!
The story of the nativity is not just a story for December 25th, but is a story that is for every day of our lives. By lingering on it we can seek to enter into this story in a way that hopefully will slow us down to the wonder and unimaginable love of God come down.
So as I encouraged my friend last week, there is still time. There is still time to linger in the sweetness of this season. Not all of it may be intentional reflection on the Incarnation, but simply those activities that bring joy and draw your family close. That is part of the gift of this season, a time where we more intentionally reflect on the gifts of home and family and the goodness in our lives that God has given us.
For our family, we will continue to read the Advent Devotional we didn’t get entirely through and we will light our Advent wreath, all 5 candles, including the Christ candle, now blazing with light. We will make those gingerbread houses my kids love to decorate and we will make cookies. My kids are off of school the next 11 days and we will actually have time to do these things without the craziness of life as it is in December.
I will read an Advent book I started in early December and never finished. And we will include some intentional activities of giving to others, like making snack bags for the homeless that we see at the intersections as we wait in our car for the light to change. We will continue to linger in the nativity story a little longer and think about how we can unwrap more of the gift of Jesus throughout the coming year.
Friends, the Christmas celebrating, it has just begun! Without the stress of gift buying and the crazy number of activities that are front loaded into the month up until Christmas, won’t you linger a little longer with me.
Won’t you take the time to unwrap the greatest gift ever given?