There's a beautiful happy thing I've noticed the more our family has tried to live in tune with the liturgical year. Life makes more sense. Not only that, but the wisdom of God behind the seasons makes everything so much more peaceful and manageable. I'm finding this especially true in recent years for Advent and Christmas and especially now as The Mom, the one responsible for organizing, orchestrating, and executing nearly all of the celebrations with so very very much happening behind the scenes to make the magic happen. Living the Advent season as preparation and the Christmas season as celebration has been in many ways a joyful relief.
Not, of course, that there still isn't a whole mess of things still to do. But the building pressure valve of an unnatural and unreasonable number of things to get done (Deadline: Christmas Day!!) is released quite a bit. What could be incredibly stressful when seen through the eyes of the world (So much perfection required! Christmas Day is your one magical chance to get it all right!!!) now becomes in the eyes of the Church a whole season to celebrate. Not getting that gift made or those cookies baked isn't the colossal cultural failure it is when Christmas is only one day. The gift that didn't arrive on time isn't the end of the world. Living the liturgy with the Church, I have a whole twelve days of Christmas to celebrate and that thought gives me freedom to relax a bit and enter into Christmas with a more peaceful heart and less frantic spirit.
Celebrating all twelve days of Christmas can sound overwhelming but I actually find it just the opposite. It forces an efficiency-minded person like me to rest with the mystery of Christmas longer, to enjoy the people around me, and to let the business and obligations of normal life give way to the joyful reality of the Incarnation. Time stops and the world stands still a bit. More time to celebrate means less stress that everything has to be perfect for just one day. Allowing it to be an entire season has brought a deeper celebration in our hearts and home filled with reminders, some little, some big, that Emmanuel changed more than just one day. He changed everything.
So here are fifty ideas for celebrating all 12 days of Christmas that begin on Christmas Day. Now, don't go thinking we've done or will do all these things in one year. That would be kinda nuts. These are just some ideas from our own family celebrations and brainstormed up for myself and maybe others of future ways to set that time apart and celebrate the whole season.
1. No School!
This definitely sets the whole tone for Christmas and makes it feel like time set apart and that Something Big is being celebrated. With homeschooling we have the ability to set up our schedule and expectations so that we don't do any formal lessons during the Christmas season. The kids need that break and so do I. I think it teaches far more than a few extra days of math or spelling. I'm pretty sure that even if my kids were in a traditional school I would seriously consider keeping them home some days if the school schedule interfered with Christmas.
You knew I'd say that, right? Daily Mass during the Christmas season is always so beautiful. The decorations are still up, it feels quieter than the Mass chaos of Christmas Eve/Day, and it's probably one of the best gifts we could give to the Lord for His birthday (and so much more we get in return!).
3. Keep the Music Playing
The Church doesn't start playing Christmas music until Christmas and keeps it up all through the season. It works well in our family to follow that same lead. Not only does it build the anticipation SO much but it means that we're not sick and tired of O Holy Night by the time the holy night actually arrives. If you come to our house during Christmas, there will definitely be Christmas music playing long after all the radio stations and stores have turned off theirs!
4. Have That Family Over That You Always Say You Want to Get to Know Better
Christmas is the perfect time to invite that couple or family that you never get to see or be bold and invite over that new person or people that you'd like to get to know.
5. Save Some Gifts
It's worked really well the last few years to space out the gifts over Christmas. Instead of everything coming on one day, we give them one main gift and stockings on Christmas morning. Then several times over the season, I surprise them with other gifts like the ones sent from Grandma or a family puzzle showing up under the tree one morning or a special book for each of them for Epiphany. Even something simple like new socks can be it's own surprise. It spreads the excitement and fun while at the same time taking some of the pressure off of Christmas morning to be everything.
6. Go Sledding
A gimme, I know. But a perennial favorite.
7. Volunteer at a Local Soup Kitchen or Shelter
He's hidden in the poor, remember?
8. Fondue Night
I think we're going to try this one this year. Tricky with kids but we'll manage. Nothing says joy like melted cheese and chocolate.
9. Drive Around to Look at the Lights
If you're especially brave (which I am not in this regard), you'll pack or stop for some hot chocolate for the ride.
10. Bring Cookies (or even carol???) to the Neighbors
Being pulled out of my home sanctuary and being all mingly with neighbors definitely pulls me out of my comfort zone but it's a good and Christmasy thing to do.
11. Ice Cream Dinner
Every year we either find a local ice cream shop or buy our own supplies for an ice cream dinner one night during Christmas. This is one of the kids' favorite traditions.
12. Put Together "Blessing Bags" to Keep in the Car for Someone in Need
You've probably seen the idea. People keep a large ziploc bag filled with small items that they can easily hand out if they come upon someone who is homeless or begging. Inside are things like warm socks, granola bars, gift cards for McDonald's, a toothbrush, soap, a rosary, or anything else that might be helpful.
13. Visit Your Local Cathedral or a Pilgrimage to a Beautiful Church
Christmas is the perfect time to visit your cathedral or see the decorations at another beautiful church in your area. Around here there are so many amazingly stunning churches to visit and several shrines that are beautiful, especially around Christmas!
14. Have a Family Movie Night
Save some Christmas movies for the actual season! Add a picnic or pizza dinner to make it extra fun.
15. Christmas Visits with Family
Make an effort (if possible) to plan Christmas parties and visits with family during the actual Christmas season rather than before. Not only does it take the stress off the weeks before but it makes more sense liturgically to party during Christmas rather than during the preparation time of Advent. Plus it adds to the special set apart time of Christmas and celebrates the season naturally.
16. Puzzle Day
Our family loves doing puzzles together. It sounds really lame until you start doing it AND YOU CAN'T STOP. They are so addicting and cozy and you end up having some really great conversations while you're doing them.
17. Make Gingerbread Houses
I've never found time to do this with kids before Christmas and it seems to me like the perfect activity for the actual Christmas season anyway!
18. Leave Up the Tree and Decorations
A lot of Catholics make sure they leave their tree and all decorations up until at least Epiphany. Some go even further and leave it all the way until the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus (Candlemas) on February 2. Whatever you do, none of this tossing the tree and turning off the lights on December 26 nonsense.
19. Have Your Priest Over for Dinner
You know you've been meaning to do it and Christmas is the perfect chance. And hey, maybe you can have him bless your family and your house while he's there.
20. Visit a Museum/Zoo/Aquarium
Make this the time when you visit somewhere special with the family. If money is tight or your kids are littler, hit up the pet store. (Seriously. Free entertainment for the under 8 crowd.)
21. Snow Sculpting Contest
You could make it a competitive contest or if that would dissolve into tears, maybe everyone work on something together. How cool would a huge Nativity scene sculpted from snow in the yard be?
22. Go to the Dollar Store and Fill the Cart for a Local Women's Shelter
(Or homeless shelter or food pantry or... You get the idea.)
23. Move the Wise Men
Every day during Advent the kids move Joseph, Mary, and the donkey a little bit closer to the stable. Once Jesus is born, they begin (or keep) moving the magi towards the stable to bring Jesus His gifts at Epiphany. It's a great teaching and reminder that the birth of Christ was and is a whole epic story, not just one silent night.
24. Keep Saying Merry Christmas
A friendly Merry Christmas to the clerk or friend or stranger or whoever goes a long way in not only preserving the joy of Christmas and sharing the message of Christ's love but shifting the 'over and done with' mentality of a secular understanding of Christmas.
25. Let Each Family Member Pick Dinner One Night
Dangerous? Possibly. But super fun and takes care of meal planning!
26. Build a Huge Living Room Fort
In full disclosure, at our house this would most likely be a dad thing while I found a convenient reason to leave the house.
27. Go to a Nursing Home to Visit the Residents
They would absolutely love it and you could make someone's whole Christmas. Bring holy cards or Christmas candy or cookies to pass out.
28. Have a Beer/Wine/Cheese/Whatever Tasting Night
Make it a night with adult friends or make it kid-friendly with cheese or soda or chocolate tasting.
29. Read Aloud a Special Book as a Family
A Christmas Carol, maybe? Or The Gift of the Magi?
30. Pick Out Something Together from the Food for the Poor Gift Catalog as a Gift to the Poor
We love this organization and over 98% of donations go straight to the people served.
31. Decorate Christmas Cookies
Didn't get to the baking you wanted to have done before Christmas? (Or lose all self control and eat them all before Christmas even started?) Bam, now it's a Christmas time activity and a legit way to celebrate.
32. Have a Progressive Dinner
I think this was a thing in the 70's and 80's but it sounds like a fun night! A few families (or just couples) each host one part of the meal and the group travels from house to house for each course. Might be tricky to manage with littler kids but even a potluck is fun with good friends.
33. Keep the Candles Lit
Keep candles lit during meals (use up the rest of those Advent candles!) and during the day. Everything always feels more special with candles!
34. Go Cross Country Skiing or Take a Family Hike
For you more "athletic" types...
35. New Restaurant/Food Night
This wasn't something we could do most years but the last few years we've started the tradition of trying a new type of food as a family sometime during Christmas. This one's mostly for me since most of my kids and husband would be perfectly content eating the same four meals every day forever. But I think it's fun and it introduces them to new foods and cultures. Last year we tried Hibachi (they loved the show, the food not so much). This year I'm leaning toward Indian or Thai.
36. Make (Super Easy) Fleece Hats and Scarves for the Homeless
They may not be the height of winter fashion (but maybe someday ;) but I promise, making these hats is easy. And the kids can help.
37. Use That Fireplace for a Hot Dog and Smores Night
I dream about having a fireplace again some day and if we did this would definitely be a thing.
38. Have "Christmas for the Animals"
I've always loved Ginny's idea of celebrating Christmas for the animals. All of creation gets to celebrate Christ's coming, right? Spend an afternoon making bird feeders to hang, stringing up some popcorn for the squirrels or deer, or buy a special treat for your pet.
39. For the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Donate to a Local Crisis Pregnancy Center
Pick up a whole bunch of diapers and bring them over. Or make a monetary donation. Or pray the Rosary in front of the local abortion clinic. Or all of the above.
40. Make Eggnog
If you're one of those grinches that don't like homemade eggnog, fine. Make it a hot chocolate bar.
41. Go See a Play or Movie
Some fancy theaters have free movie nights and some movie theaters have affordable matinees. Or splurge on a fancy night out for the family and see the ballet or the musical that is touring.
42. Have a Hotel Night
Obviously a bit of a financial commitment (got any random rewards points somewhere?) but even the simplest hotel sometimes feels like vacation even if for a night, especially if there's a pool! (Definitely find one that has free breakfast included, too!)
43. Help a Family in Need from Your Parish
Ask your priest or parish secretary if there is a family in need that they know of. Find out if they have specific needs (groceries, baby supplies, help with utility bills, etc.) and take care of them via a gift card or anonymous check. Consider respecting their privacy by doing it through the parish and not knowing who it is.
44. Go Bowling
Who doesn't like bowling, right?
45. Make Snow Candy
My friend Theresa has a recipe for snow ice cream! Or use the Little House on the Prairie method of simmering molasses and sugar and pouring it over snow and letting it harden into candy.
46. Buy a New Board Game
Our family plays a lot of games together and I like to add one to the collection each Christmas. This year it's this one. Might I also recommend Ticket to Ride, Quirkle, or Sorry? Those are all favorites around here.
47. Plan an Epiphany Party
Many Catholic families, especially in other cultures, use the Epiphany as their big celebration and plan a party that day. Gifts are given, king cake is eaten, and each person chooses a virtue or saint for the year from a hat.
48. Go Star Gazing
Not only are the stars often clearer and out earlier in the winter but it's the perfect activity for remembering the journey of the magi to visit Jesus!
49. Keep the Stockings Up
The last few years the boys have started leaving notes or little gifts in stockings all through Christmas. It's super sweet!
50. Keep Praying Like It's Christmas.
Finally, spend time each day before our Lord in the manger, remembering, thinking, praying, meditating on the amazing reality that is Christmas. Even if you can do none of the other things, asking our Lord to keep the joy and reality of Christmas in your heart is really the most important of them all.
I'm sure there are lots more ideas out there that you're welcome to leave in the comments! However you celebrate I hope you have a wonderful, joyful, peaceful, beautiful Christmas - all 12 days of it.