When I was a child, there were a few years when my father celebrated the 12 Days of Christmas by giving a dozen little gifts for my mom. But he didn't just hand them to her or leave them by her place at the table. He chose each present to fit the theme or number of the days from the old carol and delivered them with my brothers and I singing the proper verses in the background. We held daily rehearsals to learn the new words just in time for the little production but never so early that we could spoil the surprises.
Instead of presenting her with quantities of poultry and vassals, he edited the song a bit to fit his more modern tokens of affection. Sometimes the ceremony included a scavenger hunt of sorts, with the clues hidden in the verses. The most memorable variation was "A cartridge in a bare tree" --a new VHS tape tucked in the branches of one of the deciduous trees on the lawn! I'm pretty sure there were three fresh pens one year, and five cold things in the freezer once, too.
Looking back, I don't know how he managed to come up with all of those gifts (and puns!) in the middle of such a busy season of life. The grand romantic gesture of it all made a big impression on me at the time. (And I seem to have inherited Dad's pleasure in writing parodies, for better or for worse)
Fast forward thirty years, and now I'm celebrating the holidays with my own busy family, striving to maintain the simple coziness of Advent as well as the spirited joyfulness of the full twelve days of Christmas. Those of you who try to keep to the liturgical year understand the extra energy it requires to tactfully limit the early festivities in order to maintain the season of anticipation (without being a Grinch!). And, likewise, the planning it takes to truly enjoy the prolonged feast days amidst a culture that pitches the tree on December 26th and starts a new diet on New Year's Day.
Last year, Dad gave us this beautiful calendar for marking the days and I just love how it lets us transition our Jesse Tree devotions during Advent into a ritual of marking the dozen days of Christmas. The gorgeously engraved tiles are designed to flip over to reveal a new gift each day. This year I am hoping to take the opportunity to teach the children about the hidden meanings behind each of the gifts of the traditional song and sneak a little extra catechesis into the celebration.
The tune itself can get old, but children never seem to tire of it. There is something enchanting about the sheer abundance of all those exotic birds, the dancing ladies, the leaping lords. I am hoping that, as this tradition takes root and grows, they will come to associate the twelve days of Christmas with the Christ, the True Lover, and giver of all good gifts.