Ah, the holidays. We just love them. We love everything about them. Well, the positive things that is. We love the cool weather (I say cool, because in Florida, that’s all you get) and for us, it means the end of the hurricane season, and the beginning of something special. We love the hustle and bustle (even though we sweat and fight traffic-at least it is not in the snow!) and the baking and cooking. But we especially love the times together as a family.
You probably follow about the same ritual as we do. A big Thanksgiving meal, with all the trimmings, and before the turkey platter is put away, the kids are begging to get the Christmas decorations out of the attic. The Christmas season has begun.
We usually manage to pull the stuff out of the attic and put up the tree with its accompanying decorations by the 1st of December. We like to put them up as early as possible as to savor the whole month as the “Christmas Season.” But what then? Usually by December 31, we dread putting all that stuff away. Why does it seem to take so long to put all that stuff back? Each year it seems like I just got it out and it is already over before I have time to blink. The older I get the faster it goes. Usually there is lots of help pulling it all out, but very little putting it all away. We lovingly pack everything away, then we drag all the boxes back to the attic to wait for the next year. But it is all over so soon. We are never ready for the decorations to go back and the season to end. And somehow we pressure ourselves into thinking that it all has to be put away and cleared out by the 1st of January.
But 2005 was different. It was wonderful. We stretched the season well into January, and enjoyed every blessed minute. And the pressure to get it all put away dissolved into the joy of discovering a whole new tradition to keep: The 12 Days of Christmas.
The ideas for this work came to be because we had a need- a need to not only prolong the holiday, but also to bring the focus back to Christ and the real reason we live.
Face it, if you are like me, you loose focus with all the fuss over Christmas. We hate to admit that as Christians we get caught up in the “Holiday Rush”, but we do. We are doing very well if we get through a small advent Devotional ever other day or so. With recitals, plays and parties, not to mention decorating, shopping and baking, sometimes the Christ of Christmas gets shoved aside until we are sitting impatiently at the Christmas Eve service, wondering if we got everything done and where the season of peace and goodwill toward men has gone. We chide ourselves, promising next year will be different and confess our inadequacies to our Savior who is waiting with open arms to love us in spite of our poor memory. And somehow, no matter how hard we try; the whirlwind sweeps us away again year after year. Its not that the activities aren’t worthwhile, and blessings to others and to us; It just seems that so many things happen in such a short time that we are left feeling “let down” when it is all over. We plan and prepare and then, whoosh, in one fell swoop, its over.
As a 3 time hurricane survivor, it makes me think of preparing for “the big one’. You get what you need and then the whirlwind comes. Then when it’s over, you have no power and a bunch of clean up to do.
I knew that things needed to change, but what? And how would we ever do it? I began to seek the Lord and he showed me that what we needed is a paradigm shift of Christmas--a change of focus. Enter Linda and her family. She and I had become friends through a mutual friend (thank you Sandy!). Our friendship grew quickly, and God was working on both our hearts regarding Christmas and our celebrations. Here’s Linda’s perspective:
“It was many years ago that I first learned that the Twelve Days of Christmas had meaning beyond a funny little song we sing at Christmas time. I wanted to share this with my children but each year with all the pressures of the season I would run out of time and energy. I had done some research and found some of the hidden meanings behind the twelve days and felt led by God to do something with the information I had, but what?
Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love the music, songs, and the decorations. But most of all I love what this time of year means to me. My Savior decided to come to earth as a baby, grow up to be a man, suffer everything that he did but without sin, and then sacrifice his life, so that I may live. I try every year to savor every moment. I decorate, I prepare meals, and I try to do family devotionals for Advent. I participate in the Christmas activities at our church. I don’t want to miss anything the season has to offer. I want my children to understand that it is not about the gifts that we receive (and there always seems to be too many) but about the Gift he gave. This is supposed to be about Christ, not us. Whose birthday is it anyway? But every year when Christmas was over, I would always feel such a let down; like somehow in all the hustle and bustle, I missed it.
So much work and preparation for just one day. I felt like Christmas should be the jumping off point for the holidays, not the finish line. God had been working in my heart for some time deepening my desire to reclaim the season. This is how God lead me to this whole idea. I wanted more time to truly celebrate (that comes after the preparations.) I wanted to give gifts to my Savior. I wanted Christmastime to be more about Christ and less about us. I wanted my children to have this in their hearts, too. These things were in my heart one day when Leslie and I were in a local wholesale club. When we saw the twelve stackable Christmas gift boxes, it was as if God finally put the last pieces together. Instead of gifts to us, we are to give gifts back to Him. And I knew that I was not meant to do this alone. Our families had been home schooling together for several years now, and our hearts were intertwined. Had it been left to me, it would have never been anything more than a great tradition for my family. Leslie is the reason that you can now find a new way to celebrate the holidays. I thank God for giving her to me as my friend.”
During our research and prayer, God showed up and taught us that Christmas shouldn’t be the end- it is just the beginning. The preparation for Christmas is necessary. We have family obligations and we desire to have a wonderful family day. But that day is just the beginning. It is the jumping off point, if you will, to the true celebration. We wrote down what he gave us, and the result is this guide.
For you, our fellow sojourners, our prayer is that you will truly enjoy the busyness of Christmas, knowing that the reflection and refocus that the 12 days will afford you will allow you the freedom to pour yourself into ministry to others during the season. You can relax knowing that on Christmas you give gifts to each other, but for the next 12 days you will focus on giving back to Christ.
The Old Testament customs and celebrations were given to the Israelites to remind the old and teach the young of his faithfulness and his covenant relationship with his chosen people. That is what we hope this little book will become for you and your family. We feel blessed by what God has done in our lives through the Twelve Days, and I feel privileged that he entrusted this project to us. Now we share it with you, and hope it does the same for you.
Our prayer for you is that you will find as we have that this is an awesome way to end the old year and begin the next. It is such an amazing way to celebrate the New Year. Not just one day, but twelve. We pray that you will use this and let God slow your heart, refresh your spirit and restore your soul.
Leslie and Linda