The 12 Days of Christmas

Every year I look forward to Christmas and for the whole of December I am a whirling dervish of shopping, Christmas music, obnoxious cheer, happy celebrations and festive decorations. All of that joyous energy comes to a rather abrupt end on the 25th in America, something that is atypical to my parents, who grew up in Italy and were used to spending their Christmas season after the 25th: namely, the 12 days of Christmas. From the celebration of the birth of Jesus on the 25th to the arrival of the Magi on the January 6th (The Epiphany), these 12 days of Christmas are the Italian Christmas season, or it was when my parents were growing up. I love both the religious and the secular aspects of Christmas: I think both are worthy of celebration and commemoration. But I don’t think Christmas—as a season, a state of mind, and a celebration—should end on the 25th. I hereby call for an elongation of Christmas! (I’m really just a sap for the season, but hear me out.)


Secular Christmas has its major pitfalls, the commercialization of the season and the shift away from its religious meaning for example, so my adherence to the 12 days of Christmas is partly to learn more about what the season is truly about, both the religious, the moral, and the secular. I love Christmas because it’s an amalgamation of religion, spirituality, and pagan tradition that goes back centuries, and is in part a winter festival and a celebration of love and family. And as a Catholic, I can ruminate on my religion and what part it plays in my life, and can be thankful for what I have.

Every year I read A Christmas Carol and fall in love with the message of the novella. There’s one line in particular that always strikes me as true:

“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

And the thing is, I don’t see much of that at Christmas. I see crowds of people in malls and on the streets, pushing and shoving and beeping at each other in their haste to get deals, sales, stuff for other people and then go home to avoid all the chaos. I don’t see people treating each other with kindness and generosity. And while I love shopping for my loved ones and giving them things I know they’ll love and enjoy, I will never understand the logic of solely using material things to show affection. The act of giving has turned into the act of buying.

But on the 25th, that ends. Most people think Christmas is over but for my parents, and for other cultures around the world, it’s only just begun. So today, the 27th, is only the third day of Christmas, folks. Here are some things I’d like to do and to keep in mind on these twelve days:

I’d like to volunteer somewhere. I’d like to change my attitude toward strangers; living in New York, even in the suburbs, is an isolating experience. On Christmas Eve I was in a good mood and said “Merry Christmas” to everyone I came in contact with, and every time I received a smile and the same wish in response, my heart lifted a little. I’d like to start treating everyone as if they are, to use Dickens’s rather morbid words, “fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures…” We tend to label people and regard them as Other, but I’d like to change that. I’d also like to take more time to mend relationships or appreciate those people in my life more, through small acts of kindness. I’d like to celebrate love. Because, in the immortal words of whatever genius wrote the score of The Muppet Christmas Carol, “wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.” Christmas should last the whole year.


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