Hurry. Decorate. Shop. Celebrate. Collapse. By the time Dec. 26 rolls around, you’re glad the radio has stopped playing Christmas carols. If you’ve ever encountered the holidays this way (or are starting to feel that way this year!), it’s time for a reset. And we can do this by living out the 12 days of Christmas. So first, let’s bust a few myths.
Myth #1: The 12 days of Christmas occur during the 12 days leading up to Christmas. Christmas is the 12th and final day.
Fun Fact #1: The 12 days of Christmas are based on the liturgical calendar and designate the 12 days that occur from Christmas Day up to the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6. That is, Christmas has only barely begun on Dec. 25. It actually continues on well into January.
Myth #2: The 12 days are a meaningless, consumerist construct created to make you buy more things. They were mischievously designed by a lover who gave his girl too many bizarre gifts to keep track of any other way than through the most repetitive carol of all time.
Fun Fact #2: The song was historically used as a catechetical tool with each of the gifts representing a different truth of the faith. For example, the partridge in a pear tree represents Christ himself, the two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments, and the three french hens stand for the theological virtues — faith, hope and love. In reality, the 12 days are a deeply meaningful celebration of the greatest gift ever given that nobody needs a song to remember: God became man to save us.
So, the 12 days matter, but how do we live them? How can we possibly keep up the festivities so long? Simple. Let’s choose to live intentional joy this Christmas season. Starting on Christmas Day is the perfect time to rediscover the joy and wonder of the season. I could go on about the meaning of the season, but I think you know that. Instead, I am going to give you practical suggestions to live these days of Christmas with childlike joy and renewed excitement. Some are goofy; some are sweet; all are designed to remind you what it means to live in the freedom of childlike joy. Take them as a daily challenge, or design your own ways to choose joy in these coming weeks.
12 ways to actively choose joy
- Dec. 25: Get excited: Jesus Christ is born! Exclaim it. Shout it out. You will feel silly. You will feel awesome. You will remember your identity as a child of God who is living fully alive. If you’re shy, try it in your room or the car. But don’t let today go by without proclaiming aloud: “Jesus Christ is born!!”
- Dec. 26: On this day when so many are tearing down and putting away their Christmas decorations, add one to your house. Maybe it is making paper snowflakes just for the occasion. Maybe it is digging an extra ornament out of the attic. Remember, the celebration has just begun!
- Dec. 27: Sing your favorite Christmas carol. Better yet, sing it with someone else.
- Dec. 28: Take a Christmas pilgrimage. Visit a church you don’t usually attend, admire their Christmas decorations and pray at the manger. If you can’t get out of the house, take a few moments of prayer in front of your own Nativity scene.
- Dec. 29: Sip a favorite hot drink very slowly: tea, coffee, hot cocoa, cider — your choice! Do it just because you are celebrating. If you’re feeling adventurous, read a classic Christmas story as you do so.
- Dec. 30: Write a note to spread joy. Send it via snail mail.
- Dec. 31 (New Year’s Eve): Take a few moments of quiet. Light a candle, sit near the candlelight, and write down the 10 things that brought you the most joy this year. Thank God as you remember that he touches even our darkest days with his light.
- Jan. 1 (New Year’s Day): Look up Scripture passages on joy. Write down your favorite one, and put it somewhere you will see it throughout this year: in your Bible, on your mirror, in your car, on your refrigerator, whatever works for you. Let God’s Word remind you that you can resolve to choose joy in all circumstances.
- Jan. 2: Resist the urge to take down the decorations. Take the time to relish them instead. Spend at least five minutes walking around your home and soaking in the details of a few decorations or ornaments you haven’t taken time to intentionally appreciate yet this year.
- Jan. 3: Call someone to wish them a Merry Christmas. Yes, I know it is nine days after Christmas. All the better! If you feel silly and can’t think of anything else to say, tell them about how you are intentionally living out the 12 days of Christmas this year. Share your joy.
- Jan. 4: Give something away. It can be a physical item or a gift of your time. Whomever you choose to serve, be intentional about looking for and finding Jesus in that other person today.
- Jan. 5: Dress up for Christmas. A Christmas sweater or pajamas or dress or earrings — something that reminds you it is still Christmas!
I hope these suggestions provide fun, simple and lighthearted ways to engage with the ongoing wonder of this season. All of them can be done alone, but if you are with family this Christmas, do them together.
In the end, it all starts with your heart. Will you let God remake it this year? Will you meet the Christ child anew? Will you let him fill you with his joy in even the tiniest of moments? May each day be spontaneous, even frivolous, with God’s permeating joy.
Maria Mellis is a high school English teacher in Clarkston, Michigan, as well as a pianist and parish music director. She has spent time living and teaching in Poland and loves to bake, to play soccer and volleyball, and to write poetry in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. She is passionate about the daily opportunity that each one of us has to encounter God in the most ordinary of moments and is continually inspired by the incredible teens she has the privilege to teach.