The packages have been opened and the leftovers are put away. The house — so full of life and noise for the past 48 hours — is quiet again. The tree and decorations are still up, but they seem a little less bright, as if they know their time amongst us for this holiday season is almost over…The end of Christmas always makes me a little sad.
You spend all of that time getting ready for the holidays — and, look so forward to them — and then, bam! They’re over in what seems like an instant — a wonderful whirlwind of fun, over too soon. At least when you reach a certain age (like mine, which many would define as “old”) the blow of the end of the holidays is softened by the knowledge that they’ll be here again before you know it…another, bam! Thanksgiving already???
I have always liked the notion of the “12 Days of Christmas.” It seems like a nice way to stretch things out and diffuse the intensity of our “1 Day of Christmas” some...So, this year I used a bit of my post-Christmas-let-down-non-energy to look up what those 12 Days of Christmas were all about.
St. Stephen’s Day (or the Feast of Stephen) is on Dec. 26 — the day after Christmas. St. Stephen was one of the first Christian martyrs, stoned to death in 35 A.D. (according to Wikipedia) for “speaking against the Temple, the Law, Moses and God.” Ironically, during his trial he had a vision in which “heaven opened up” and he saw “the Father with the Son at his side.” Just before he died, Stephen verbally forgave the people throwing the rocks, which probably validates the reality and strength of his vision…
The 12 Days of Christmas begin with St. Stephen’s Day and last through Jan. 6, the Epiphany — the climax of Advent and the Christmas season - for it is the day the Wise Men came to bestow their gifts on the Christ Child. The word epiphany means “to show” or “make known” and the fact that three rich, wise men traveled very far to find Baby Jesus and give him exotic gifts pretty much made it clear that something special, rare and wonderful had gone on 11 days earlier in that stable in Bethlehem.
The Bible does not state how many Magi there were, but the three gifts are well described, which means three Wise Men is a pretty good guess. In Hispanic and Latin American culture, January 6th is called Three Kings Day, and gifts are exchanged then, rather than on Christmas.
For Protestants, Epiphany lasts until Ash Wednesday and that is why one of the traditions of Mardi Gras (the Fat Tuesday, before Ash Wednesday) is the King’s Cake, in which a tiny baby charm can be found by a lucky muncher who then gets blessings and good luck for the rest of the year.
In some places, like “Jolly Olde England,” it was traditional to give gifts on each of the 12 Days of Christmas, hence that long, long song so often sung this time of year. Those celebrations culminated on the Twelfth Night (January 5th) with feasting and the removal of Christmas decorations. Doesn’t that sound a lot more festive and fun than just tossing out the tree on January 2nd?
One Christmas, when our kids were little, Mr. Clark and I drug them to Mexico for the holidays. We wanted them to experience Christmas in another part of the world — one much less wealthy and perhaps, more in touch with “the reason for the season” than ours. And, while our kids remember that as our “worst Christmas ever,” Mr. Clark and I have fond memories.
It was fun to see all the tiny manger scenes outside the small, obviously very poor houses, and it was fun to see the tiny strings of lights and shrines to the Virgin Mary inside. Until that Christmas, we had no idea that in some cultures the manger where Baby Jesus lays, is empty until midnight on Christmas Eve — when He mysteriously, suddenly and quite joyfully arrives and is celebrated by everyone — even the tiny ones — by going to midnight Mass.
It was humbling for us to see the joy with which those little kids received a single Barbie doll or toy truck — their only gifts for that year. And, it was fun to hand out jalapeno suckers and candy canes, simply to see the smiles on the kids’ faces as they ran back to their parents to enjoy their treat.
Part of me wishes I lived in a humbler simpler place – one where the 12 Nights of Christmas were celebrated, and on the 12th night, we would ease the pain of taking down the holiday decorations by eating a Kings Cake. And (of course) part of me is so thankful that I and mine are exactly where we are.
Who knows what the New Year will bring, but whatever it is, we welcome it with open arms, in spite of the lingering fatigue and faint sadness that our one day of Christmas is now gone.
Lorin Sinn-Clark is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.