A primer. John C. Wright lists out, with some humor, the Feast Days that comprise the Twelve Days of Christmas, their meaning and a custom here or there.
Growing up, my Dad especially went out of his way to make sure we had a 'big Christmas.' At least in the American, worldly, commercial sense. Not that I minded. Plus, I understood why, even as a kid. When he was young, he had what we would call nowadays an 'abusive' father. An alcoholic, he also struggled financially through the Great Depression. As such, my Dad not only had little in terms of commercial items, but his Dad didn't believe in wasting money on things like Christmas trappings. An ironing board substituted for a tree to place what little they got on December 25.
Even when my Dad got a job at a lumber yard when he was fourteen to help the family, it didn't change. When he was seventeen, he wiggled into a position on the Erie Railroad - a job he would go back to until he retired. With the substantial money he then made, he bought a tree for his family - mostly because he didn't want my Mom to see his house without one when they were dating. That wouldn't do. His father came home in a drunk and threw the tree out in the yard, just before my Dad brought my Mom over to see it. Such was Dad's life.
But neither Dad, nor any of his brothers, continued the trend. All but the youngest brother had kids and were, by any measure, good dads. My own Dad went out of his way to provide for us, albeit to the extent that he sometimes worked so much we seldom saw him. But I find kids maintain a large degree of forgiveness if they sense the parent in question is trying to do the best for the kids.
Despite it all, they were still children of American Protestant Macy's Christmas traditions. That is, four weeks of fun and anticipation and celebrations and parties and shopping and Santa and TV Specials and everything leading up to the crescendo on the morning of Christmas ... and then it's over. In fact, I used to listen with dread to my Mom, with almost clockwork precision every year by Christmas evening, when she said," Well, it's all over for another year!".
Of course our Christmas breaks would last until January 2. We typically got a half day off before Christmas Eve, and then back the first school day after New Years. So there was a fun factor involved that extended beyond Christmas day. Nonetheless, as a holiday, the Christmas festival itself was over. Christmas was done. The tree would stay up for a few days and then gone.
So when I got married, one of the first things we did was stretch Christmas until New Years. Being Baptist, my wife was a bit skittish about going full Twelve Days - a bit too Catholic. But she was fine with making the whole week an elongated Christmas celebration. Once we had kids and I was active in ministry, we stretched it out to Epiphany, as I used history lessons and biblical studies to justify the full season.
Coming into the Church finally gave us reason to do what we had done for years. It wasn't without adversity, and there were those in our churches who, when they got word we did anything Christmasy after the 25th, got concerned about our cosying with papists. The same was said whenever I brought up Advent. But I must admit, it's refreshing and somewhat counter-cultural to actually get up on the 26th and still wish the family a Merry Christmas.
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