Our 12 Days of Christmas


Celebrating Christmas for twelve whole days can seem a bit daunting at first and people are usually quite curious when they hear it’s what we do in our family. Hopefully, this post will clear up some of the mystery and answer the “What does it look like?” question we usually get.

But let me take a minute and answer the second most asked question we get.

“Isn’t it expensive?”

Well, yes and no. In the long run we probably do spend a little bit more than we used to. Honestly, I prefer the deliberate and meaningful generosity in this way of gift giving though. And to be clear we are a single income family. A single pastoral income…we’re not talking big bucks here so I work at planning in order to be as frugal as possible. Also, since it is spread out over time that means the cost is spread out too. And hello after Christmas sales! I have found that I am bound more by my creativity than I am by money constraints. Some days are more expensive than others but none of them have to be a huge expense. For us there are just some things we do not do often during the year because it’s expensive for a family of our size to do them and they become the perfect gift for one of our 12 days.

For example two family outings that we do not typically do during the year are going to the movies or eating out as a family. Just about everywhere has gift certificates or cards these days so I can purchas them well ahead of time and tuck them away until our movie day or dinner out.

How this looks seven or eight years in is different from how it looked when we first started. And this year will look different because Sarah, our oldest, works all but three or four of the days. Plus she has her own apartment. (It was really sweet back in June when she moved out…three of her siblings voiced their concern over how we would handle Christmas this year.)

But the great thing is that we have a basic framework in place so it’s not a complete overhaul each season. I basically just add a few things in the empty spots around what I call our anchor days. These are the days that are non-negotiable and happen every year.

Christmas Morning ~  They always get that one thing they have really been wanting. They also open their presents from the grandparents but it’s one gift from their father and myself.

Giving Days ~ This didn’t come into being until several years after we started but honestly it’s one of my favorite things about our celebration. Each one of the kids has their giving day when the do not receive anything but they give gifts to each of their siblings. They also get to pick out and prepare a meal of their choice for the family. Sarah’s meal has evolved to include another family and she and Mary will plan a delicious and fancy dinner that usually takes them all day to prepare. Sam usually chooses tacos. Obviously the personalities of the kids make these days what they are.

Favorite Things Basket ~ This is something the kids look forward to every year and cannot be left out. I get a large basket and buy all the fun stuff that I always or nearly always say no to. Giant jars of nutella and Biscoff cookie spread. Lemon curd. Yoohoo drinks. Pop Tarts. V8 Fusion. Certain cereals. Particular chips or snacks. All the things that either don’t fit our everyday grocery budget or are so awfully bad for you that I can’t do it on a regular basis. No off brands either, the real deal name brand. Something everyone will enjoy but some things are put in because of a specific child. Like the lemon curd. Anyone can enjoy some but it is in there because Claire loves it. Sometimes if I find a cheap dvd of a childhood favorite movie or game I will add that into the basket as well.

Ice Cream ~ This activity originally started out as a trip to our local frozen yogurt shop with another family that does not mark the 12 days as we do but it has become as much a tradition for them as it is for us. We’ve got some hilarious stories to come out of this yearly adventure and the telling of them is all part of the process. Although this year we have options because a Baskin Robbins opened and a place called Tastes Buds. My money is leaning toward Taste Buds because they have these amazing freak shakes. (This is where planning ahead helps. The money for this outing has already been tucked away in a sock drawer.)

Day Twelve ~ We always end our celebration with their Christmas stocking and this is where those after holiday sales really shine. Apparently I put tooth brushes and such in them last year and I have been informed that is a no-no. I also forgot the Mementos and apparently those must come back.

So for our family, five kids plus the other four anchor days, means nine of the days require nominal planning to happen. The remaining three days can be an individual gift for each of them, an activity, or an outing of some sort.

Here are some ideas that we’ve done.

A book day. Sometimes we pick the books out and gift wrap them and a few times we’ve planned a jaunt to Barnes and Noble and everyone got to pick out their book.

We have also done a music day and everyone either received sheet music, records or cds. A shoe day (with four girls someone is always seeing cute shoes they want or need.)

We’ve had a game day and everyone got some kind of card or board game. Some friends of ours do their own version of this and spend the day playing games.

Doing things with another family adds to the festivities and fun. We’ve done gingerbread house contests with friends when our kids were younger. It got so big one year we had to do it at the church. One year we packed a picnic dinner and went to see Christmas lights with another family. One of the first families to join us in the 12 days knows a lot of stuff about hockey and they began the yearly tradition of a hockey game. We usually  go to dinner (Sonny’s Bar B Que) and an Ice Flyers game and sometimes the kids ice skate afterwards. There was utter shock expressed when I mentioned it might not happen this year due to work schedules conflicting with the game schedule. I’ve no idea why it is so or why my normally peace loving non-violent children become blood thirsty hooligans but that’s just the way it is.

The ideas and possibilities are really endless. Have a gift card day! Pick up random gift cards throughout the year and spend a day using them. You can choose to do a service project as a family, visit a nursing home, have a baking day and then deliver the goodies to the local fire or police department. Invite people to join you. No matter how small the activity or actual gift may be celebrate big.

Because really what we are celebrating is the most extravagant gift that has ever been given. We are echoing the generosity of our Father who sent His Son to not just rescue us from death and hell but to give abundant life. We celebrate robustly and fully because that is the life we have been granted in Christ.

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