On the Fourth Day of Christmas
I know people who are happy and relieved because Christmas is finally over.
They no longer need to struggle to survive all that advertising. The weeks of stress and pressure are in the past. It is no longer a challenge to try to remember everything and everyone. All the extra organizing and effort is behind them for another year.
These people are surprised, and not pleasantly, when I tell them Christmas has just begun for me.
Liturgical churches organize each year into liturgical seasons. These seasons work like the four seasons of winter, spring, summer and autumn. Liturgical seasons, though, reflect the significant parts of the story we share more than the weather.
For many of us, this liturgical season begins on Christmas Day and lasts for twelve days. The season ends on Twelfth Night and the next season begins.
Many of us feel rushed as we try to get everything done in anticipation of a one day holiday. For many of us, that one day can feel disappointing, a little anticlimactic.
A twelve day liturgical season gives us time to reflect and spend time with the true, deeper meanings of Christmas.
This season of twelve days is about more than taking time to put away decorations. The season is not intended to be confusing or filled with complicated rules.
It is about taking time to remember and find ways to practice what Christmas is really all about.
Our first step into the twelve days of Christmas, beyond the words of the song, is recognizing the meaning of this liturgical season. We can get lost and miss the point of this season altogether.
What is this season really all about?
The Twelve Days of Christmas
This season is not about trees and tinsel, garland or getting what we want. It is not about wrapping paper, ribbon, shopping, or gift cards. It is not about mangers, shepherds, or angels.
These twelve days are not about traditions or the tastes of special foods, caroling or movie openings. They are not about traveling or spending time with relatives. The point is not about red or green, white or blue, the weather, or watching a fire.
Our season is not about the aroma of baking cookies, or greeting cards, or time away from work or school. It is not about Bedford Falls, or Ralphie, or 34th Street, or partridges in pear trees. We are not focused on sales figures, or lumps of coal, or being naughty or nice.
This liturgical season is not about going to church, or advertising, or reindeer, or elves. It is not about the Grinch, Frosty, a little drummer boy, or the Ghost of Christmas Past. It is not even about giving or helping people who are less fortunate than we are.
These things are not wrong in themselves, but none of them is at the essential core of these twelve days for us. Christmas transcends all that.It is deeper, more valuable, and more essential.
Christmas is the sacred being born in the everyday. It is when we see what is divine inside a baby, even a homeless baby born in a shed. We see and reflect on how the sacred is born and grows within us.
We take the time to recognize and appreciate the sacred and divine in each other.
Christmas is when we stop to remember and reflect. It opens our eyes to the truth in ourselves and all around us.
This season is about paying attention and putting what we see into practice.
It is essential for me to spend this twelve day season reflecting on Christmas because there is so much clutter to set aside. Spending time watching a fire in the fireplace or the lights on a tree helps me let go of distractions. Listening to sacred stillness allows me to remember what Christmas is all about.
All those expectations and traditions, thoughts and experiences take up a lot of space in me. These twelve days are an opportunity to examine what is still packed in all those boxes and decide what to release.
It is also important for me to make sure my reflecting and remembering are not merely mental exercises. I need to sort through what I see, what I learn, and put it into practice.
This season is not about merely thinking about things. The sacred is not born in our everyday lives unless we take some action. It does not need to be anything dramatic and we do not necessarily need to tell everyone about it.
We can take a new step into practicing Christmas on each of these twelve days. Those twelve daily steps help us move in a new direction.
Christmas as a Way of Life
Our lives are filled with opportunities to discover and explore how we will practice Christmas. Each of us finds our own particular steps to follow.
Some of us will be drawn toward exploring the birth of the sacred in everyday life through music or through art. We may discover how what is sacred comes to life in particular experiences.
Each of us needs to spend a little time each day being open to finding what is sacred in our everyday lives.
This season of twelve days reminds us Christmas is with us every day of the year. We remember what is essential about Christmas and what is not. Christmas becomes a contemplative practice for us and we begin to follow a new way of life.
We begin to realize again Christmas is more than a time of buying and selling, more than giving and receiving. A good twelve day season of Christmas allows us to deepen it as a way of life.
Allow Christmas to do its work in you and explore its depth each of these twelve days.
When will we begin to practice Christmas today?
How can we adopt Christmas as a way of life this week?
[Image by Wendy Piersall]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.