It really was a flippant comment, one of those crazy, too-far-out-there ideas that you toss out simply because it seems so ridiculous that you would never do it. But for whatever reason, this one stuck.
Back in early December, Hennie and I were talking about how we might celebrate Christmas as a family this year. As we anticipated a busier than usual holiday season, we were tossing around ideas about how we could make our Christmas celebration into something more than simply giving gifts on one evening between a couple other commitments. More as a joke, I started singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” and suggested we could get all of our kids the traditional partridge in a pear tree. We laughed and then paused. There was something about that idea of extending our Christmas celebration over 12 days that stuck with both of us. Without hesitation, Hennie grabbed a notebook and started planning.
As we imagined what it might look like, we realized that celebrating Christmas over this extended time would allow us to give our kids more than just the typical “here’s-my-Christmas-list” presents. So Hennie started writing down ideas about how to give gifts of time and affirmation to our kids. We decided that each day there would a small note in their stocking, which gave them some clue or direction about what that day’s gift would be. Hennie also came up with a gift that they could unwrap each day, which would in some loose way relate to what we were planning for the day. In the end, our 12 days ended up looking like this:
Day 1 – Dec 25: Unwrap – a popcorn popper; Gift – watching a new movie together at home with popcorn
Day 2 – Dec 26: Unwrap – box of candy; Gift – going to the movies at the theatre: some went to Frozen, the rest to The Hobbit.
Day 3 – Dec 27: Unwrap – “Fun Dip” Candy; Gift – going for a “fun dip” (swimming) at a local recreation center.
Day 4 – Dec 28: Unwrap – their favourite chocolate; Gift – 10 pin bowling, with the winner getting out of their dinnertime responsibilities for that day.
Day 5 – Dec 29: Unwrap – new board game; Gift – playing board games with the family for the afternoon.
Day 6 – Dec 30: Unwrap – Tim Horton’s gift cards; Gift – a Tim Horton’s run on the way to Opa & Beppe’s house.
Day 7 – Dec 31: Unwrap – mini flashlights; Gift – staying up as late as they wanted for New Year’s Eve.
Day 8 – Jan 1: Unwrap – Hot Chocolate in their favourite flavours; Gift – going sledding as a family (postponed due to how cold it got).
Day 9 – Jan 2: Unwrap – hot wheels cars; Gift – a day in Niagara Falls, playing arcade games, shopping, & eating out at a couple restaraunts (Wag Jag deals made this one possible).
Day 10 – Jan 3: Unwrap – an envelope with a home made gift certificate; Gift – their choice of 1 type of lesson for later this winter/spring. We suggested some possibilities, like swimming, a day of horse riding lessons, CPR/1st Aid, SPCA, judo, etc.
Day 11 – Jan 4: Unwrap – Indigo gift cards; Gift – a shopping trip to Indigo to buy new books of their choice.
Day 12 – Jan 5: Unwrap – a personalized letter of affirmation, recalling some of their significant moments from the past year and affirming the ways we have seen them grow in their character, relationship with God, and relationships with each other; Gift – a homemade gift certificate to go out to breakfast or lunch with either Hennie or me at some point later this winter/spring.
On a practical side, celebrating Christmas this way gave a bit of structure to each day and helped immensely with planning for some of the down time uncertainty that comes with our kids having two weeks off from school. But more than that, the 12 days provided us with a sense of anticipation each day, more quality family time, opportunities to affirm each other, and, particularly with the last two days, a way to talk about how Christmas is really part of a larger pattern of life in which God calls us to practice generosity throughout the year.
One of the surprises for me was that Hennie also planned 12 days for me. Some days she gave to me the same thing we were giving to our kids. Other days, she wrote a note affirming something she had seen in me or extended a gift of affection. I was caught off guard by how a simple text message (Day 6) recognizing a gift she sees in me or a scented candle (New Year’s Eve) can add joy.
As our 12 Days of Christmas have come to end, I realize that I have received a few gifts through the experience as a whole.
One, I remembered that celebrating Jesus’ birth is a way of life. It does not have to be an extravagant gift wrapped under a tree. A simple note, a small gift, and making time to laugh and enjoy being with others are powerful ways to live in the light of Jesus Christ’s birth.
Two, I found joy in telling people about the experience of these 12 days. I felt the commercialized approach to Christmas falling away this year as almost daily I talked about the gifts of time that we were experiencing as a family. I noticed that our kids’ conversations about this Christmas changed. It was not focused on what toy or video game they had received, but on what we had done together that day.
And three, I am feeling challenged by this experience. The questions that keep coming to mind are “who can I encourage?” and “what’s a simple way I can show someone else that I see them and recognize them?” It’s amazing how a 12 day diet of deliberating affirming and being affirmed can reshape my vision for how I might extend this experience to those around me.
This has been an amazing 12 days of Christmas for our family. Our kids were already giving suggestions of things we might do as a family next year as part of the celebration. And truth be told, they’re not the only one’s looking ahead. The thought popped into my head as I woke up this morning “only 353 more days until Christmas.” And that shift in perspective may just be the best gift I’ve received this Christmas.