It's Christmas - Now What?

Photo by David Singleton

December 25 has come and gone, and for those of us who are Catholic, we know the Christmas celebration is not over, but rather just begun. However, with the gift-giving bonanza that many households have already celebrated on the 25th, its sometimes hard to know what to do next. This is especially difficult for converts, of which I am one, or Catholics just recently trying to rediscover their faith.

Admittedly, as a convert, it's taken me about a decade to figure this out, and I must confess that every family does things a little differently. That's okay. There is nothing wrong with a little diversity in the Church, especially for private family devotions. 

The trick, insofar as I have been able to figure it out, is not going too far outside of our cultural norms. For example; some Catholics won't set up their Christmas tree until Christmas Eve. Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and if that is what a family is accustomed to, more power to them. However, in our Anglo-American culture, the standard practise is to set up the Christmas tree and decorations sometime in Advent, and in my family, we usually have ours up, with all the decor, by the first Sunday of Advent at the latest. (We love Advent/Christmas and really get into it.) So in extending our Christmas celebration, one of the first things we did was just leave the decorations up longer, rather than starting later.

Now there are 12 days of Christmas; starting on December 25, which is the solemnity of the Nativity, and going all the way through to January 6, which is the solemnity of the Epiphany. We all know what the Nativity is, with the birth of our Saviour in the stable, the chorus of angels, and the shepherds in the fields. Anglo-American culture puts less emphasis on the Epiphany. As we shall see, however, learning how to put emphasis back on Epiphany is the secret for making the 12 days of Christmas work out. We all know the story of the three wise men (magi) who came to visit Christ about 2 years after his birth. This is the Epiphany. Yet in Anglo-American culture there is a tendency to lump that story in together with the Nativity. What we Catholic Christians need to do, in order to enjoy the 12 days of Christmas, is learn how to spread that story out a bit. On the Nativity (December 25) we put emphasis on the birth of Jesus and the visit of the shepherds. However, on the Epiphany (January 6) we need to start putting emphasis on the visit of the wise men (magi) to the Christ child. Lot's of Catholic families have different ways of doing this. For families with young children, they will sometimes take the three wise men (magi) figurines and gradually move them from one side of the room to the other, starting December 26, until they meet the figures of the Holy Family on January 6. My kids are a little old for that now, but its a great little tradition.

One of the things that we try to do now is use the time from Nativity to Epiphany to get the kids thinking about what they want to give to Jesus (as a gift) this year. It might be a poem, a song, or some act of charity or religious devotion. This allows them to participate with the wise men (magi) in giving gifts to our Saviour. As parents, we usually save one special Christmas gift for last, as an extra surprise on Epiphany. 

Beyond that, I recommend the following actions to keep the Christmas celebration going...
  1. Go to mass. The best way to keep Christ in Christmas is to keep the Mass in Christmas. In addition to Christmas Eve midnight mass and Christmas Day mass, there are many other lower feasts and observances held during Christmastide. Any one (or more) of them would be a good choice to attend, and we must not forget to attend mass on January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
  2. Absolutely keep all the decorations up until at least January 6, even if that means you're the last person on your street with Christmas lights on your house. Just tell your neighbours (if they ask) that you're Catholic and we celebrate the full 12 days of Christmas. I find that 99% of the time they usually find that intriguing and are very accepting of it. 
  3. Absolutely keep the Christmas music going. In these days with digital music devices (iPods, MP3 players, Echo, Pandora) that's pretty easy to do. Keep it going in your home, and in your car. 
  4. If you're feeling especially frisky, call your local Christian radio station and start requesting Christmas music after December 25 all the way through January 6. Eventually they'll start to wonder what's going on, and may actually extend their Christmas music selection.
  5. Spend time with family! Instead of doing that one crazy get together on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, maybe stagger things out a bit. Have some in-laws over on the day after Christmas, and then the other in-laws over a day or two after that. Plan some family recreation and entertainment during those 12 days. One of the things my family used to do, when we lived in Southern California, was plan a Disneyland day trip. Here in the Ozarks, however, we plan movies and dinners, with occasional trips to local attractions. 
  6. Keep saying "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" all the way to January 6. Undoubtedly, you'll start getting lots of confused looks after the new year. Most of the time, people will just say "Merry Christmas" back and wonder what's wrong with you. Occasionally however, you'll get a question or two. That's no problem. The answer is short, simple and easy. Just say there are 12 days of Christmas, and we're still in it.
  7. Come up with a candle lighting ceremony you can still do with your kids. In our family we sing "O Come Emmanuel" during Advent while the children light the Advent candles. During Christmas, we sing "What Child is This?" every evening we are home when we light Christmas candles. Learning all the lyrics to this song is a phenomenal way instill the Christmas spirit into your children.

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spears shall pierce him through,
the cross he bore for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
the Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The babe, the Son of Mary.

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

Many of these things are just suggestions, but you get the idea. Of course you have to do what works best in your own family, and like I said, diversity is a good thing within the Church, especially when it comes to family devotions. What matters is that we're all making an effort to celebrate the full 12 days of Christmas. How you do it in your family will undoubtedly be a personal endeavour. Still, the important thing is that we all just try our best.

In this modern world we often lament the commercialisation of Christmas. Well, this is our big chance to put an end to that. After December 25 the commercialisation is over. All that remains is religious and family celebration. So celebrate already! The world needs a Christmas free of all the commercialisation, rushing and obligatory gift buying. We can give that to them, and most of them will enjoy seeing it -- a Christmas as it was meant to be!



Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of '' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

Read Shane's Books

Become a Benefactor of this Internet Apostolate