Posted tagged ‘Holidays’

Our Twelve Days of Christmas

December 20, 2011

Growing up, I always wondered about “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Other than a raucous carol to be sung enthusiastically along with Mitch Miller, the point was lost on me. When I was young, our family routine was for me to wake up at 5am, bolt (very, very quietly) to the living room, scope the mass of boxes wrapped around the tree, sneak back to bed, twitch for 5 minutes, then go wake up my sister and parents to start the mayhem. By 9am, all the packages were opened, partially played with, and the round of phone calls to distant relatives begun. By 7pm, dinner and dishes were done, the house cleaned and we were exhausted. And that was the end of Christmas. On to the next. That is not an indictment of my parents, it is what we did. All of us in my neighborhood, all my friends and their families.

This routine (without the trip into my parents’ room) continued through my early adulthood, and I carried it with me into married life. My wife and I actually slowed it down a bit, as we were always geographically separated from family, so we would start later, but inevitably, by 7 or 8pm, we were finished.

Then we had children. I was anticipating going back to the old routine. Relishing it, in fact. It didn’t quite work that way.

As they both became mobile in the toddler years, things were different.

Our son, who has Down syndrome, does NOT like change. So much so, in fact, that he refused to go into the living room because we had placed a TREE in it! Over the years, he has worked his way up to accepting the decor. I wouldn’t say embracing it, but accepting it. Also, he has never, to this day, been a big fan of wrapped presents. Developmentally, it just isn’t a big deal. It is a colored box. Big deal. And usually, there is one gift that he loves most. And he is content to play with it for several minutes, then retire to a quiet place and chill out. There is no reason to mess with any other colored boxes. So there has never been a high level of Christmas excitement for him.

Our daughter was the polar opposite. She would be up at the crack of dawn (her usual rising time), and tear down to the tree. She would unwrap as much as we would allow, as fast as she could, and about half way through, would completely melt down. We’d take a break of a few hours, and resume. As she got older, the break needed to last longer. At first, we struggled to understand what was happening. We knew some of it was wrapped up in sensory processing disorder, and eventually would embrace it through a diagnosis of Autism (Aspergers syndrome) and several accompanying diagnoses.

Around the time the kids were 6 and 5, respectively, it dawned on us. There was no set rule that said everything needed to be done by a certain time, or even a certain date, for that matter. We had always taught the importance of Advent, and we built on that. And we also came to grips with our own version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Our kids would open a couple of items whenever we were all gathered in the living room, then save the rest for later. The days stretched, and so did our celebration of the season. It took the pressure off the kids, and allowed us to help them fully enjoy the season.

It did make for some awkward phone calls in the early years from relatives wanting to know the kids’ reactions to their cool gifts. But after explaining what we were doing, most understood, and waited for the day theirs was opened. And the puzzled look on my daughter’s friends’ faces is priceless when they see wrapped presents still under the tree several days after Christmas.

Recently, I felt validated when a theological scholar (and amazing songwriter), Glenn Packiam, wrote that, “Part of reclaiming a calendar centered on Christ means learning to let Advent be Advent – to prayerfully long for Christ’s coming and be attentive to the ways He is coming to us even now by the Spirit…and then let Christmas be Christmas – a burst of joyful celebration that goes on for 12 days!”

I’m not sure we’ve pulled off the entire 12 days, but we’ve pushed it through the beginning of the new year. And it’s a great reminder for us to start the year with a spirit of joy and gratitude. As I’ve told friends over the years, our Christmas celebrations look nothing like a Norman Rockwell painting. Some days it more resembles a Picasso, and others, a Monet. But they are beautiful, they are unique, and they are treasured. Just like my family.

Merry Christmas!

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