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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas, Day 2

'Turtle doves' photo (c) 2005, shankar s. - license: do you mean, "Christmas is over for the year"? Of COURSE Christmas isn't over. Yesterday was just the beginning! Don't you know there are twelve days of Christmas?

No, seriously. There are twelve days of Christmas. In Church tradition, December 25th is only the first day of Christmas, the celebration of the day when the child Jesus was born. In fact, the rest of December isn't "Christmas" at all; everything leading up to December 25 is called "Advent", which is where the idea for your chocolate "Advent Calendar" came from. So even if you're not a high-church kind of guy or girl, you can at least thank the Church for giving you an excuse to spend the entire month of December eating chocolate!

So today, December 26, is actually the second day of Christmas. But in lieu of giving and receiving gifts of turtledoves today, the Church calendar asks you to think about Christianity's first recorded martyr, St. Stephen. Today is St. Stephen's Day, and you can find a little information about it here at Wikipedia, if you are so inclined. Switch gears from the seasonal song you've had going on in your head the whole time you've been reading this post so far, and think about the first line of "Good King Wenceslas". Now you know what day the good king is supposed to have looked out on the deep, crisp, even snow and seen a poor man who needed his help.

In our family, we happen to have come up with our own little tradition for the day after all of the ruckus and presents and hubbub... many years we take December 26 as a day to bake a "Happy Birthday Jesus" cake and celebrate just a little bit longer. Not only is it a nice way to sort of ramp down from the adrenaline rush that is Christmas in the United States of America, but it's a small way to once again remind ourselves of what we as Christians are supposed to be celebrating. I'm sure there are lots of Christian families out there who have had the same idea and who have the same tradition.

It's not just December 26th that has a special meaning, though. Every day of the twelve actually has a significance in Church liturgy - I've never been part of a denomination that celebrated them, so I've only heard about and read about them. But one that has stuck for me occurs on the day after the twelfth day of Christmas. That holiday is called Epiphany, and it is the celebration of the day when the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem (I blogged about it previously here). Two years ago I started a tradition in my family (and sprung it on my wife as a surprise that first year!) that we would get a small gift for each family member and give it to them on Epiphany, the day the Magi gave gifts to Jesus. This gift is never a video game or toy, though... this gift has to be different. This gift is carefully selected as something that will give that family member a way to focus on Jesus for the entire coming year. In that way, it is an intensely personal gift. It can't be the same thing for each family member; it has to be something selected specifically for their age, gender, and level of understanding of the things of God.

The first year I did this I did not tell my wife what I was doing until I had already done it... it was quite a surprise for everyone, but I thought it was a pretty wonderful experience. The next year she knew about it ahead of time, but I still pretty much handled it myself rather than truly bringing her into the situation (although I've always intended to). This year we've already talked about it briefly; I've got some of the gifts already, but there's more to do. But she'll be selecting the remaining gifts with me this time.

For me, it has been worth the effort every year so far. I hope my gifts have had the intended effect on my family members, but even if they haven't, the act of working so hard to come up with something for each of them to direct them to Jesus has had a profound effect on me. I look forward to it every year. I would definitely encourage any of you to spring the same surprise on someone on January 6 - whether it be a family member, a brother or sister in Christ, or maybe even just someone you know who could use a little encouragement. Jesus said that something done for "the least of these" who need a helping hand is done to Him... let's be wise enough to follow the example of the Wise Men, who brought gifts to Jesus, and truly bring Him our gifts this Epiphany!

Music by David Crowder Band to celebrate these "Bonus Days" of Christmas we Christians get to:

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