In our home, my husband and I have made a conscious choice to incorporate more of the liturgical calendar into our daily family life. For us, this means striving to separate Christmas from Advent: Our house during Advent is sparsely decorated until Christmas Eve, and we try to focus on Advent hymns like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” instead of Christmas carols. And while at first it may seem like we are being Scrooges or intentionally avoiding Christmas cheer, maintaining Advent as a time of preparation helps us keep the liturgical Christmastide as a true season of celebration. It’s harder to maintain a sense of joy and wonder on Christmas Day when the festivities have already been going on for almost a month.
The more difficult thing for us, however, is not figuring out how to avoid celebrating Christmas in Advent, but how to maintain the spirit of Christmastide in a culture that throws out its trees and its traditions on the morning of December 26. It’s been difficult for us to keep the party going, so to speak, when everyone else is drafting New Year’s resolutions and bemoaning all the cookies they ate. The liturgical Christmas season deserves more attention in our homes. The span of days from Christmas Day to the Baptism of the Lord is a string of feast days and holy days—including St. Stephen (December 26), the Holy Innocents (December 28), the Holy Family (Sunday after Christmas), the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God (January 1), and the feast of the Epiphany (traditionally January 6). Christmastide is built for celebration!
Every year, as we approach the end of Advent, my husband and I ask ourselves: How can we embrace the celebratory season of Christmastide? Here are some of our ideas.
- Leave your decorations up! We keep up all our decorations until at least the Epiphany, and then leave the nativity set out until the Baptism of the Lord.
- Spread gifts across the entire Christmas season. This has become especially important to us now that we have children, who receive many gifts from loving relatives. While extended family gift giving will occur on Christmas Day, my husband and I save our own family’s gift exchange for the Epiphany. I think it’s a nice way to close out the Twelve Days of Christmas, and it helps us keep Christ as the focus of Christmas Day festivities.
- Do something special as a family every day of the Christmas season. When our children are older, this will probably look like family game nights and movie nights. For now, it looks like a visit to the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., or decorating sugar cookies or making gingerbread houses.
- Read the Infancy Narratives as a family. The Bible can be such an intimidating thing—it’s so thick, there are so many different books, and so much of it seems to no longer be relevant. Reading it in parts corresponding to the liturgical calendar has been a much easier way for us to embrace the Word without becoming overwhelmed.
- Eat something special during Christmastide. For me, this means cooking more complicated main dishes for dinner—a contrast from the simpler fare we ate during Advent.
Question for Reflection: How are the Advent and Christmas seasons different for you? How do you celebrate Christmastide?