The Twelve Days of Christmas: More than a Song

Merry Christmas! I know that for many, today is the day after Christmas, but for most Catholics around the world, today is not merely the day after Christmas, it is the Second Day of Christmas. A few weeks ago, I wrote about anticipating Christmas, but more importantly, enjoying and appreciating the days after Christmas – the TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS! 

We all know the song and its seemingly endless list of Christmas gifts. The English Christmas carol was first published in 1780 and was a rhyme, not a song with music. It may even originally have been a French chant. English composer, Frederic Austin, first published the musical arrangement we are familiar with today including the recurring word “on” which did not appear in earlier versions.  The exact origins of the song are unknown, but it is believed to have been a children’s game played on the English festival, Twelfth Night, that, over time, evolved into a chant and then a song. Many have suggested that the twelve gifts have Biblical meaning though most modern scholars dismiss this claim. While that suggestion has been debunked, it it is interesting to note that there are exactly 364 gifts, one for each of the year except Christmas.

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The Site of birthplace of Christ

While all of that is well and good, none of it explains exactly why we believe that Christmas should be celebrated for twelve days and not just one. One reason is that the Church implores us to recognize the importance of Christmas and to reflect on its meaning for more than a day (especially important today when you consider that most people never even gave Jesus a single thought on December 25th). Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. Never mind that history did not record the actual date of His birth. It’s the celebration and the meaning of Christ’s coming that are important, not the exact date in history. Christmas commemorates the single most important date in history, the day that “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1: 14).

What can we do to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas today? We can go to daily Mass, of course, but there are other things that were done throughout history when it was better understood that these are days of reflection and commemoration. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to return to these practices today. There are several important feast days during these Twelve Days that can still have meaning for us today in the celebration of the day and the actions that were once associated with them. 

December 26th is the feast day of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. It is traditionally a day where Christians commemorated St. Stephen by giving their Christmas leftovers to the poor. December 27th is the feast day of St. John the Evangelist. It was through John that the world learned that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh” (John 1:1). It is considered a day of reconciliation (taken to heart by Pope John Paul II who visited and forgave his would-be assassin on this day in 1983). December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the babies who were killed by Herod in his attempt to stop Christ from becoming king. For a number of centuries, it was a day when children were allowed to run the household, the country, or even the Church (with the appointment of a child Bishop for the Day). It is considered a day of fun and folly for children. 

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Celebrate your family on December 30th

December 29th is the feast of St. Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury in the 1100s. It is considered a day to examine our lives and resolve to work to overcome injustice in the world. December 30th and 31st are alternately celebrated as the feast day of the Holy Family, depending upon the liturgical calendar of the year. This should be a day to reflect on Mary, Jospeh, and Jesus as a role model family and what we can do to help our families become more holy. January 1st is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Traditionally, it was a day when families prayed the Rosary together. January 2nd is the feast day of both St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzen who were teachers of the trinity and lifelong friends. It is a day to celebrate friendship. Parties were traditionally held on this day to celebrate the Christmas holiday with friends. 

On January 3rd, we celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus. It is a day on which we should celebrate a person’s name and its meaning. We should recall that, as the Catechism states, “Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.” Depending upon when the first Sunday after Christmas is, the feast of the Epiphany is celebrated between January 2nd and 8th. The arrival of the Magi is sometimes marked by a blessing of the house, especially the entranceway, to welcome the Lord and all visitors. Some Christian households inscribe “20 + C + M + B 19” over their doors, the traditional date of the new year and the initials of the traditional names of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar). January 6th is the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. It is the twelfth and final day of Christmas, the culmination of the season, the third epiphany of Christ’s infancy (the first was to the shepherds, the second was to the Magi, and the third was to Simeon and Anna at the temple). 

However you celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, the importance thing is to CELEBRATE! Though you may go back to work and the kids back to school, keep with the Christmas spirit. Acknowledge that there is more to the season than just a day of giving presents and eating too much food. Presents are given to symbolize the greatest present of all – Christ to the world. They shouldn’t be the main focus of Christmas. Think of the Twelve Days of Christmas as your honeymoon period with Christ. Revel in it and in the joy of His coming and birth. Before you know it, we will be entering into Lent, and Christmas will be a faint memory. Enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

References:
The more days the merrier: Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas
When Is Christmas Over: January 1? Epiphany? Candlemas? (Whatever that Is)
You’ve Heard the Song — but What are the 12 Days of Christmas?

What I was writing about a year ago this week: Seeing Jesus.

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

 

Make your Own Hallmark Story This Christmas

I’m just going to say it. I’m really tired of hearing people put down the Hallmark Christmas movies. Yes, they’re predictable. Yes, most of them follow the same formula. Yes, they all star the same actors and actresses. But you know what? They are a welcome refuge from everything on the news and the crowds in the stores and the stress of the holiday season. I mean, really, there is a reason why they are so popular–who wants to spend more than two minutes thinking about everything that’s going wrong in the world today? Wouldn’t you rather be watching two people fall in love over the course of a holiday season with the most beautiful snowy backdrop in the most welcoming Christmas village kind of town? And who says that romances like that don’t really happen?

To prove my point, all I have to do is think about the conversation I overheard this past Saturday night. My girls and I hosted our annual Mother-Daughter Christmas party with dear friends from our community, parish, school, and family. After the party was over, Rebecca’s friends, most from other states, spent the night here at the house. As we were cleaning up, the talk turned to weddings, as it often does with post-college girls! Then several girls told the stories of how their parents met. Each one was more charming than the last, and my heart swelled every time I heard Rebecca’s roommate swoon, “I’m obsessed with this story, keep going!” Since I was there, Rebecca asked me to tell the story of how Ken and I met. It’s a lovely story that our family really enjoys sharing. And it was obvious that the girls all felt the same about their own parents’ first encounters.

The stories revolved around failed first marriages, high school sweethearts, second chance romances, and fate encounters. Each one was different, but they all shared one quality–in the eyes of their daughters, no matter what the circumstances were, the stories were enchanting tales of falling in love and living happily ever after. It didn’t matter if there was pain or strife involved, if there was swirling snow or the perfect cup of cocoa, or if the meeting took place at a bar, a frat party, or a gingerbread cottage (as so many HM movies do). The stories gave the girls hope that someday, they would all be featured in their own personal, Hallmark movie romance, just like their parents were.

You see, not every romance or happy story takes place in the perfect Christmas town where the non-believer comes around to joyfully celebrating the holiday with his or her new-found love while light snowflakes fall around them. But every family’s beginning has a story, and those who retell the story often see a fairy-tale unfold even in the most unlikely of circumstances. All of those girls made their parents’ romances sound like a Debbie Macomber novel (HM favorites) even if we all knew that the story was just an ordinary meeting between two ordinary people destined for an ordinary life in an ordinary town. There was no exaggerating or creating an epic bestseller from a comic book, but each story was special, and the girls all knew it. They all recognized that every story has the potential to be a Hallmark story, even the ones that go awry. Why?

Because, like many of the characters learn by the end of the two-hour movie, your life, your story, your family’s story, is what you make it. When we see our lives and the people in them as something special, unique, and to be cherished, we can all be just like the people on Hallmark. Sure, we won’t all have Balsam Hill Christmas trees or perfect sugar cookies in less than fifteen minutes, but we all have the ability to see the wonder of life and to appreciate our own stories and to pass this along to our children.

photo-6176892386934784So, this Christmas, when your family’s rendition of Hark the Herald Angels Sing doesn’t sound like a Blake Shelton-produced movie or your cookies aren’t picture-perfect, don’t worry. Your children will remember everything the way you make it out to be–The Nightmare Before Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life. You’re living your own Hallmark movie every day. Write it the way you want it to be told, cherishing the good and bad, and smiling along the way. Bring happiness into the world. Celebrate the holidays with all the joy and enthusiasm found in a winning gingerbread house contest or a sleigh ride on a snowy mountain. Someday, you may look back and see your lives, your romances, and your Christmases for what they really were–stories better than a Hallmark movie.

What I was writing about a year ago this week: Seeing Jesus.

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

Listening to the Silence

Here we are, more than halfway through the season of Advent. Two weeks ago, I wrote about being grateful and giving the gift of love this Christmas. Last week, I wrote about the importance of patience and even more important, not taking for granted what you’ve been waiting for! This week, amid the hustle and bustle of the season, I’ve been trying to remember to be grateful, patient, and appreciative, but it’s a busy time of year, and it’s easy to get caught up in the preparations without remembering what it’s all about. For several days now, I’ve been thinking about a beautiful Scripture passage: 1 Kings 19, 11-13. I can’t help but marvel in how that story of Elijah is repeated every day in our own lives, especially during the Christmas season.

Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake;

after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.

When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

This is my week this week: Start each morning off with a visit to the gym, dentist appointment for my regular cleaning, grocery shopping for the next two weeks, baking and decorating nearly 250 traditional, frosted sugar cookies, wrap Christmas presents, prepare bedrooms for my two oldest daughters to come home from law school and college, decorate the Christmas tree with the family, package and mail Christmas gifts to friends out of state and in Canada, prepare the house for our annual Mother/Daughter Christmas party this weekend, make presents for party guests, set up for the 43 dinner guests, plan and prepare the dinner for the party, and continue doing laundry, cleaning bathrooms, sweeping and vacuuming, etc. The list seems to grow each day. I seem to add tasks as quickly as I cross them off.

After standing in my kitchen for ten solid hours on Monday, decorating cookies, I can honestly say that I don’t ever remember being so tired and sore! This entire week, so far, has been like the strong and violent wind howling in the eaves and shaking the shutters. One would think that I have had little time to listen for the Lord as He tries to speak to me amid the blustery winds of busyness. There will be little time to stop and hear Him in the disaster zone that will be created after our earthquake of a party this weekend. How will I hear Him amid the roaring flames of short tempers, lighted fuses, and the arguing that comes from the whole family being together 24/7?

Rosary.jpgLuckily, there is the beautiful gift that a friend gave to me at the beginning of Advent. Chandi, one of my co-authors and dear friend, suggested that our friend group, of thirteen women across the country, pray a daily Rosary for each other throughout the month of Advent. I used to pray the Rosary every day, but amid the winds, earthquakes, and fires of life, I let the daily offering of prayer slip away. But Chandi’s suggestion was so profoundly beautiful as she apologized for throwing one more task at us during this frantic time. It has become, for me, not only a way to make sure that we are all connecting with God but, on a much higher level, with each other. We were praying for two people’s surgeries, one person’s hospital stay, one’s daughter in need of prayers, one who just lost an in-law, several who will be traveling, one who is moving, and all who are in need of an extra intercession, or two, or twelve.

Every day, I get to carve out a little time to listen for the “light silent sound,” to be still and hear the message from God, to talk to Him, share with Him my troubles and my joys, thank Him for all that He has given me. And in those moments, I am rewarded with the knowledge that He is there in all that I do – in the wrapping and the baking and cleaning – in the smiles and the tears and the laughter. Whenever I am bent by the wind, shaken by the earthquake, or scorched by the fire, I only need to close my eyes and listen for His voice in the silence. And He comes, every single time, He comes. Whether I hear Him or not. Whether I feel Him or not. He comes in the gentleness of my husband’s touch and his offer to help bake cookies, in the sweetness of cake baked for a friend, in the joy of hearing my daughter say, “I’m on the way home.”

IMG_2183And He comes, not as a mighty warrior or a powerful king or a ferocious beast. He comes, at the end of this waiting time, as a child, a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. In all of the grandeur and glory, in the bright lights and festive music, in the myriad of decorations and parties and feasts, He comes in the simplest form. Like a little bit of prayer time in the midst of a hectic day, He is there, among the messiness of the stable and the crying of the animals, waiting for us to come to Him and to listen for Him in the silence.

What I was writing about a year ago this week: What If?.

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

To Those Who Wait

In this age of instant gratification, it seems that nobody has the patience to wait for anything anymore. No matter how old we are, we have all been swept up in the belief that we need everything to happen or be given to us right now, at this very moment. The notion of waiting for anything has completely gone out of fashion. Amazon is even looking at the possibility of same-day delivery drones because getting a package in one or two days is simply not fast enough any longer.

This week, our Jewish friends are celebrating Chanukah, meaning dedication, an eight-day period to celebrate religious freedom and the rededication of the temple after war with Greece. Though the great temple in Jerusalem is no longer standing, the Jewish people continue to pray there and continue to wait for the coming of their Messiah. In fact, they have been waiting for 6000 years. Talk about being patient! While Christians believe that the Messiah has already come, we are reminded, each year, of the 4000 years we waited when we celebrate Advent. To many, this four-week period of anticipation is more than they can bear. I know of one couple who already exchanged Christmas presents because they couldn’t bear to wait just twenty days more for Christmas.

I get it. It’s hard to wait, but… Read more