We celebrate Christmas – the coming of Jesus Christ as a baby born in a Bethlehem manger. We put up the Nativity scene, bit by bit. Baby Jesus doesn’t appear until the 25th December The poor Kings languish on the cabinet for December, until, finally, they can be put on the mantelpiece Nativity set early January. Santa doesn’t even get a look-in in our home.
Saint Nicklaus, the priest from Myrna in Turkey, is talked about 5 December – for his generosity and compassion for poorer people. One year we handmade little gifts with a little written card or letter (with a blessing) and secretly hid them in the other’s shoe, without them seeing the gift being delivered. We had to restrict the children from going in their own wardrobes between 7pm and 7am! Early December we also have fun decorating the Christmas Tree – chatting about who gave the decorations and when.
Christmas Day is a problem for me though. I cringe when the wider family is opening presents together – papers are ripped off, gift looked at, then next present grabbed. Ugh! But I have teased my kids, now young teens, that maybe this year we won’t open gifts till the 6th of January. After all, isn’t the story of the Wise Men bearing gifts where we got the idea from. It would free Christmas Day, a holy day, from desecration by greed and the “gimmees”. We can then contemplate a Baby born who bought hope, goodwill, and ultimately salvation to our world – for everyone. Jesus is God’s Royal Gift for us.
Back in Jesus’ Day, the Magi from the East brought gifts fit for a King. This is celebrated 12 days after Christmas (Epiphany). These are the real 12 days of Christmas – not before the 25th. Epiphany is the climax of the Advent/Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are usually counted from the evening of December 25th until the morning of January 6th, which is the Twelfth Day. In following this older custom of counting the days beginning at sundown, the evening of January 5th is the Twelfth Night. This is an occasion for feasting in some cultures, including the baking of a special King’s Cake (maybe a twisted iced bread/brioche ring or pastry fruit-filled galette). It is cut into pieces for those present, plus one for the poor or “the share of God”. One or two things hidden in the cake will indicate who is King (and Queen) for the day.
December and January in New Zealand is summertime. No-one is home between Christmas and New Year. We’re probably all at the Beach: from where I live, that is 30 minutes west, or 70 minutes east, or less than 2 hours north any number of beaches. Life is already exciting and busy, doing outdoorsey things.
Delayed gratification and the anticipation is good for the soul! Maybe gift-giving on January 6th isn’t such a bad idea.
Anyway, wasn’t Jesus really born late September-October?