Festival Days

Bedtime Theology with the 6 yo...  

(Conversation from November 29, 2019)

6 yo: Mom, the song says there are 12 days of Christmas but that's wrong because Christmas is only one day.

Me: (OMG I've waited my whole life for this question, act cool) Well, in the tradition of the church, Christmas was a 12 day festival beginning on Dec 25 and ending with the celebration of Epiphany on Jan 6. People used to celebrate all 12 days and make that whole time special, and then have another celebration on Epiphany. That's really the Christmas season as it was initially celebrated.

6 yo: Oh. (Not nearly as impressed as I was hoping) Okay well then why does the song say turtledove? What is that?

Me: Oh, that's a kind of bird. You know, like a dove is a bird.

6 yo: Wait, so a turtledove is a dove with a shell on it?

Today (January 6) is the 12th day of Christmas, also known as the Epiphany, which celebrates the wise men's (the three kings) visit to the infant Jesus. In some Orthodox traditions, Christmas is celebrate today. I love the 12 days of Christmas -- and try to make those days feel special and festive at our house. Why cram all the good stuff into one day?

I'm so excited about the 12 days of Christmas that I've been greeting people with the appropriate day. Happy 11th day of Christmas, I said to our pediatrician at a well-child check for our youngest son yesterday. He's a regular churchgoer so I thought he'd get it. He just looked at me. So then I explained the 12 days of Christmas and probably went on too long. Why can't I just talk about the weather like normal people? Hah!

Tonight, for Epiphany, we celebrated in a way that's become our family's tradition. I baked this king cake (a Bundt cake decorated with colorful sprinkles) and hid an almond inside. Whoever gets the almond, gets first chance to open one of the gifts I've saved back from Christmas. The gifts are board games and card games, and after we open then, we play one together. This year, Twister was one of the gifts but my husband vetoed that (it was close to bedtime), so we played a card game called "Dos" instead (it's the sequel to Uno).

My kids asked me once what I did for Epiphany with my family when I was a child, and they were surprised when I said we didn't celebrate it. It's okay, I said, families do different things. This is just something special we do. 

I love following the church seasons and calendar with kids, and making some days special. Otherwise today was just an ordinary Thursday with subzero temperatures in the middle of an Omicron surge in our city. But around our table, it was a festival day, with cake, presents, candles and sparkling apple juice. This is the gift of rituals and the gift of observing them together.

Honestly, it's not that important to me if my children remember all the details about the festivals we celebrate. I hope the remember that these holy days are somehow connected to our faith and I hope they remember the way they make us feel. Tonight, it felt good to be together. 


  1. I am just grinning and grinning because you sound exactly like my [ELCA pastor] spouse! This year he gave us all — my kids and me — Epiphany gifts! Merry 12 Days of Christmas!


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