Christmastide is almost upon us, and I am looking forward to the twelve days of Christmastide and the wonderful Holy Nights that are the wonderful, introspective times of peering within for moving forward. It’s a beautiful time of year!
Freya Jaffke, in her wonderful book, “Celebrating the Festivals With Children”, writes:
During the twelve or thirteen Holy Nights that follow Christmas, the events of Christmas continue to resonate; and it is a lovely custom for children if candles are lit each day, with singing, music making and perhaps a reading. This period is set apart from the rest of the year, and can be a time when we gather our strength for the year ahead. Nothing urgent needs to be done, and we can really take time for things. Children are deeply satisfied if mother or father sits down beside them with some craftwork, or perhaps join in a game now and then. In contrast to the summer when we like going outdoors, we feel very comfortable at home in the warmth – apart from winter walks and the fun of snow when it comes.
Here is a small guide toward helping families enjoy each day of Christmastide, and I do so hope you will leave your favorite traditions in the comment box as well!
Monday, December 24th – Since the Feast of the Nativity truly begins on Christmas Eve, attending liturgy is a priority for this night! In the hustle and bustle that can often accompany this day before Christmas, making time for quiet prayer is a powerful example of showing our children that God is with us should we choose to acknowledge Him, find Him, adore Him. God is with us, and with His smallest creatures. In Scandinavian countries, it is traditional to put sheaves of wheat for the birds. Children will enjoy taking time on this day to decorate an outside tree for the birds by stringing popcorn or making the traditional pine cone bird feeder of peanut butter rolled in birdseed.
Tuesday, December 25th– Christmas Day, the first of the twelve holy days, is a wonderful time to take an afternoon walk and see God’s creation, and also to read from The Gospel of Saint Luke. Old-fashioned board games are another suggestion for celebrating the Christmas afternoon in family togetherness. Another suggestion that some Christian families have tried with success is to spread gift-giving throughout the twelve days of Christmas so that not every gift is opened on Christmas morning.
Wednesday, December 26th– The Feast of St. Stephen – Love is the spirit of Christmas. This day is the Feast of Saint Stephen , one of the first deacons of the Church to serve the poor. Perhaps today you and your children could bring small baked treats to your neighbors, or another act of kindness and love for those in your area. Good King Wencelas is also associated with this day; perhaps you know the famous carol about him and there is also a picture book about him called “Wencelas: The Eternal Christmas Story” by Geraldine McCraughrean that children may enjoy. This is also marked as “Boxing Day” in the UK and other countries, and you can see a full description of that here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing_Day
Thursday, December 27th– The Feast of St. John – This is sometimes associated with the blessing of wine. You can see more about this day here: http://www.fisheaters.com/customschristmas4.html
Friday, December 28th– The Feast of the Holy Innocents. This is a lovely day to let your smallest child be the “King” for the day, and a wonderful day to bless your children with a special ceremony.
Saturday, December 29th – is The Feast of St. Thomas Becket in the Anglican Church and also in the Roman Catholic Church. You can see more about this feast day here: http://www.fisheaters.com/customschristmasx.html
Sunday, December 30th –is a very quiet day on the Church calendar; perhaps this is the day to write thank you’s for Christmas gifts and to take another walk or hike to look at God’s beautiful world.
Monday, December 31st– this is, of course, New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Eve actually has no relationship to Christmastide since the beginning of the New Year in the (Western) Christian calendar actually begins with the First Sunday in Advent or September 1st in the Eastern Christian calendar! However, this can be a wonderful day of receiving friends and hospitality. Perhaps you could plan a special party, playdate or tea for your children and their friends on this day! My favorite activity is listed in the book “All Year Round”. Those of you who have this book may remember this activity, where small walnut shell halves are filled with beeswax and floated in a tub lined with tin foil and greenery and there can be small “islands” of desires, dreams, wishes for the New Year. Just lovely!
Tuesday, January 1st –The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus – according to Jewish tradition, this would be the day of the naming and circumcision of Jesus Our Lord and Savior. In English tradition, it is also a day to remember godparents. Children would often visit the home of their godparents to be blessed and receive a gift! Perhaps this is a day your children could talk to their godparents and deepen that relationship.
Wednesday, January 2nd – The website Full Homely Divinity, a resource for Anglican parish life, recognizes that the Feast of St. Basil is celebrated on January 1st in the Orthodox Church, so they recommend making the traditional vassilopita on this day, which traditionally has a coin baked into it for one lucky person to find and have good luck in the new year. Here is a recipe: http://www.lerios.org/recipes/vassilopita.php
Thursday, January 3rd– Today is a wonderful day to again gather friends and family and hike, play board games and sing Christmas carols! What carols does everyone know in your family?
Friday, January 4th –This is a day to read Christmas books; there are several by Tomie dePaola that are exceptionally good!
Saturday , January 5th– Twelfth Night, the last night of the Twelve Days of Christmas and marking the transition to the beginning of the season of Epiphany! We often recognize not only the gifts brought by the Wise Men on this day in the Western Church, but also the Baptism of Jesus and the significance of water, but also the first miracle of Jesus performed when he changed water into wine.
Bonfires of the Christmas greenery and Twelfth Night Cakes are typical on this day; perhaps this would be a good day to sing the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”! Many times a special cake is baked; a Twelfth Night Cake!
Sunday, January 6th – The Feast of Epiphany –Epiphany is a festival of The Baptism of Jesus in the Orthodox Church and called Theophany; in the Western Church we often call it “Three Kings Day” and mark the Wise Men. The night before Three Kings Day is Twelfth Night, and is a time of joy and festivity marked in many different ways in different countries . In Scandinavia, “Star Singers” move from house to house, led by a large and festive star on a stick and in Russia, children are putting out shoes for Babouschka and waiting for gifts. Italian children are waiting for Old Befana and gifts as well. There are many wonderful traditions from other countries to explore; in many countries Epiphany and not Christmas is the main time of gift giving!
There is a traditional house blessing often done on this day that acknowledges the Three Kings, and the eating of a King’s Cake is traditional. You can find details about this under the Epiphany tab on the Full Homely Divinity website. I also have past posts about Epiphany on this blog.
For those of you interested in the idea of the Holy Nights as elucidated by Rudolf Steiner, there is much to say, and I am by far not an expert on Steiner’s indications for the Twelve Holy Nights. I refer you to this document about the Holy Nights as a good source often shared in anthroposophic communities.
Blessings and love,