While the world tells us that Christmas has passed, the liturgical calendar reminds us that Christmas is just beginning.
We should feel no pressure to take down the tree, clear out the decorations, or turn off the holiday music. While the stores are placing clearance tags on all the holiday decor and clearing the shelves to make room for the pink hearts of Valentine’s Day, we have permission to slow down, continue to celebrate, and perhaps embrace a quieter Christmas spirit.
In preparation for this season, I brainstormed twelve, mostly anti-consumerist ways to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas. A bit more accessible than maids a-milking or swans a-swimming, all are activities I enjoy or indulgences that I want to allow myself. But feel free to make your own list — or leave some suggestions for alternatives and additions in the comments.
Some of my ideas are meaningful, some a bit quirky, others may serve to remind us, as Hans Christian Andersen wrote, “The whole world is a series of miracles, but we’re so used to them we call them ordinary things.”
- Interview someone
In the last few months since my book came out, a book rooted in old family stories first shared around the table, I’ve had countless people tell me they wish they’d asked their older relatives more questions before they died. Thanks to the wisdom and foresight of my cousin, a few years before my grandma died we spent an afternoon interviewing her about her life. I will never forget sitting in my aunt’s living room and asking Grandma question after question, recording the conversation and jotting down the notes as fast as my hand could move. Her words are a gift to us, especially now that she’s gone, but I believe the day itself was a gift to Grandma, too. Who might you need to sit down and listen to this Christmas?
- Propagate a Plant
Back in July, I wrote on the RJ Blog about my obsession with propagating plants. It could be my frugal, Dutch ancestry that enjoys growing something new—and free!—out of something existing, but I believe it’s more than that. When so much of our daily toil can feel intangible, watching roots shoot out of a cut stem, placing that new plant in soil, and then seeing it thrive can feel like a small miracle. In these dark December days, putzing with something green and alive, something that holds hope, is an especially fitting pursuit. Bonus points for taking a cutting from the plant of someone you are visiting; I recently gained my first Christmas cactus this way.
- Embrace the cold
One of my 2023 reads was Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May. A book about the merits and restorative power of winter seasons, in both their literal and figurative sense, May tells stories of cold water swimming and its benefits: “Immersion in cold water has been shown to increase levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain’s reward and pleasure centres by 250 percent,” she writes. While I’m not ready to take a polar plunge into Lake Michigan or purchase an extra freezer for ice baths, I have been nudged to experiment with short bursts of cold showers or to bundle up to go for more winter walks (which research has also shown to be good for the brain). “By doing a resilient thing, we feel more resilient,” May, who may have been shivering, writes.
- Try Wordle like Wyatt
I’ve been Wordle-ing for a while now, and my word game life had been getting a bit ordinary, until a friend shared about playing Wordle with her six-year-old nephew over Thanksgiving. By allowing him to pick the starting word, the game took on a new twist. Now, rather than auto-piloting to my go-to starter, “adieu” (which the NY Times recently proclaimed isn’t the best decision anyway), she and I (along with a handful of other friends and family members) have been beginning with a word list generated by Wyatt. Forget “Hard mode,” and instead, find a young friend or two and ask them for a list of five-letter words as starters or play alongside them: your Wordle life is about to get more lively.
- Read aloud
Speaking of kids, I would like to dispel the notion that reading aloud is only for kids. Reading aloud is magical for all ages: I wonder what adults, maybe particularly older adults in your life, might enjoy hearing a story this Christmas? In additional to countless educational benefits of reading aloud, Jim Trelease in his Read Aloud Handbook (now in its Eighth Edition) gives plenty of other good reasons for reading aloud: it builds community, it’s joyful, it’s a relationship builder, it communicates a deliberate decision to be fully engaged with another person, and it blesses books by communicating, “this book is worth reading.”
And while all ages enjoy a good story, it is still a great way to connect to the younger people in our lives. I know one grandma who used to call her grand-buddy nearly every night to read to him before bed. Do you think he’ll ever forget that?
Some of my favorites that I’ve read aloud to my boys include the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo and A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielson. If you’re looking for a picture book, you can’t go wrong with The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak. And if you’d allow me to be a bit of self-promotion, you could also try a new release called Enemies in the Orchard: A World War 2 Novel in Verse.
- Play a game
A friend recently posed a question on Facebook about finding a new game for her family to play, and she had hundreds of responses in hours. When our Christmas tables are cleared of food, we might use them to play a game. There are likely “oldies but goodies,” in your family, (in mine it’s Rook—played two different ways on each side of our families), but maybe you’d be up for learning a new one. Ask around. Have you tried “Ticket to Ride” or “Settlers of Catan?” This year my family will find the game “Wits and Wagers” under our tree. (And I intend to win a round.)
- Gather a Quote Wall
In May of 2017, I was lucky enough to hear Rachel Held Evans speak at the Writing For Your Life Conference at Hope College. Rachel died two years later at only 37 years old. While I remember taking notes ravenously during her entire talk, the portion that stuck in my mind most firmly is when she simply showed us pictures of her writing desk and all the quotes and words hanging above it. To see and hear the words she valued, the words she chose to display and encourage herself, was fascinating.
Recently, I noticed a friend had stuck a multitude of index cards to the bathroom wall near her mirror. Ever since, I’ve been thinking that when I get the time, I want to do the same. I love underlining in books, saving my favorite phrases, noticing the sentences that take my breath away, the phrases I need repeated, that I need to read over and over. This Christmas might be a time to “write them on the doorframes of my house.”
- Bake something
I know. After Christmas, comes the New Year, and with the New Year comes resolutions and the tendency to feel compelled to throw out all the sweet treats of Christmas. But Christmas isn’t over, remember? There is time to dig out that old handwritten recipe, like my grandma’s potato chip cookies. There’s still time to embrace the therapy that a kitchen offers, to try that bread recipe, to restart the sourdough. To mix, knead, rest, proof, and proof again.
Meghan Murphy-Gill, author of The Sacred Life of Bread: Uncovering the Mystery of an Ordinary Loaf speaks my love language in her chapter on the spiritual practice of sourdough baking: “A little attention and care and (a starter) goes from merely alive to vigorous and flourishing in mere days, just waiting to transform the most mundane dough into sublime bread. Tell me there’s not a spiritual lesson in that.”
- Walk somewhere new
See #3 about embracing the winter weather and find a new trail to walk. Alltrails offers a place to search for trails for all levels of difficulty nearby your home or wherever you may be traveling. When I look back to 2020 and those days of mostly staying at home, a favorite memory is the places we found to walk.
Allow yourself to reread a favorite essay, to reopen an old novel from your shelf. Pick up something you enjoyed and savor it all over again. See what you missed the first time. Last Christmas I promised myself I’d reread Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These every Christmas. This year, when I did, I remembered why I made that commitment.
- Set up a date with that person you’ve been promising
You likely have a person or two or three that you keep repeating, “Let’s get together soon.” But then it doesn’t happen. Schedule it now. It doesn’t have to be on your calendar for next week. But make it a priority to swing dinner in February, meet up for a coffee in March. Pick up the phone and put it on the calendar.
- Catch up on your Reformed Journal reading
Maybe you’ve read everything? If you’re like me, some days are busier than others, but the RJ is always better late than never. What blogs and articles went inadvertently unopened in your inbox? Which poetry podcasts with Rose Postma did you miss? Check out the book reviews, too. There’s a lot of goodness. If you’re caught up with everything, see #10.
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