Dec. 26, ‘Boxing Day,’ is the day when every toy gets played with, every box opened, and every treat tasted. Halfway through the day, the emptiness of stuff starts to sink in, even if you got something really cool. It doesn’t quite satisfy, because it can’t. As Catholics, we’re supposed to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, to feast on the joy of Christ’s birth from Dec. 25 through the feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6). This tendency to look for the next thing, to try everything, trying to find pleasure as a substitute for joy is very common for everyone. So here are a few suggestions to make sure you celebrate the 12 days of Christmas even as you climb out from the mountains of boxes and ribbons the day after Christmas.
Dec. 26: Yesterday, you received without asking, today you should give as freely. Consider signing up to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or food pantry or shopping for the food pantry alone. Today, as you put away the largess you've received, consider giving some away. Having the children give, reminds them that all that we have is a gift, and that there is a great joy and freedom in giving.
Dec. 27: If you didn’t do Christmas cards, this is a great day to prolong the joy of Christmas, by thinking about those far and away and writing them letters saying so. Phoning and emails, skypes and Facebook are great, but writing allows for thoughtful and humorous stories and becomes a treasure for the other person. It gives joy to the receiver and to the giver, and offers proof that writing to loved ones is not merely a task to check off, but a means of celebrating Christmas.
Dec. 28: It’s a Sunday, so invite your family to spend some time today in prayer as a family, in addition to attending Mass together. Pray to give thanks for the past year and all of the joys and triumphs and trials, pray for those who died, pray for those you know to be suffering, and for the special intentions of each person. If you want to do luminaries, it’s a great way to use beauty as a rosary, with one light for each Hail Mary, to reveal the light of the world to your neighbors.
Dec. 29: The end of the calendar year is coming, but we are still deep in feast. We’ve only been at this a few days. Today, practice adoration. We sing “Oh Come Let us Adore Him!,” so go to Eucharistic Adoration. Spend an hour in contemplation, choosing the better half, sitting at the feet of the Lord. We cannot offer God anything better than ourselves, and in this culture, what we give time to, indicates our priorities. Make Christ the priority by carving out the time.
Dec. 30: Sacred music! Today, put on the Gloria and sing along. If someone plays an instrument, let them play. Devote a bit of time today to song. It’s in your house and since most of us at some point have succumbed to singing along with Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” while driving somewhere, surely we can get over our self consciousness and sing songs we seldom hear even on the 24-7, all Christmas carols radio station. How about “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” and “What Child is This?” Pick your favorites, and end with “Silent Night.” Your teens will roll their eyes, so offer hot chocolate and cookies to sweeten the deal. They’ll have fun despite themselves.
Dec. 31: It’s New Year’s Eve, and though this is not a sacred tradition, we live in a culture that wants something to happen on the eve of January 1st. We cannot divorce ourselves from this country or culture, so it’s best to use the night to make a tradition your family will prefer. Ours hosts a great feast this evening, with everyone’s favorite foods at the table. We have steak and lobster and lamb and pasta. We toast. We remember what was good, hard and wonderful of the past year and each states their hopes and dreams for the next. Before they’ve left the table, go around and say what you love about each person. Build your family up.
Jan. 1: The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, a holy day of obligation. Go to mass, then make your bowl picks.
Jan. 2: It’s a new year calendar wise, so start off by going to Confession. It’s the first Friday of the month, which itself brings special graces to those who practice the devotional of First Fridays.
Jan. 3: The three kings brought gifts from far away to someone they did not know. Consider offering a charitable gift anonymously to a charity that serves the poor in another country, like Catholic Relief Services. Then, remind your family that Christmas is not over by tucking little notes with perhaps a tiny treat like a chocolate or candy cane in their lunches or on their beds.
Jan. 4: Today is a Sunday, when we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. After Mass, put fresh flowers on the table, light candles at dinner, to remind people that we are still celebrating the light of Christ breaking into the world. Beauty is a means of feeding the soul, so let your family feast on it.
Jan. 5: Pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet and set a fire in the fireplace in the evening. Watch a Christmas movie everyone loves one more time before preparing to put everything away.
Jan. 6: Today is the traditional date for the feast of the Three Kings. Make a point of reading Matthew 2:1-18, and having a meal to mark the occasion. Play Christmas music that day, but leave the tree up until tomorrow. Today is not the day to strip back the beauty or the reminders, it is the last day of the 12 days of Christmas, so let those drummers drum. Celebrate. Hug your family and thank God for the gift of more than a day to recall the greatest gift of all, Christ the Lord.
(Sherry Antonetti writes the “In the Back Pew” family blog for the Catholic Standard newspaper and website of the Archdiocese of Washington, and she and her family attend St. Martin of Tours Parish in Gaithersburg.)