Most everyone is familiar with the traditional song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. This tune hearkens back to the days when the Christmas celebration lasted for, well, twelve days following Christmas morning. These twelve days led up to the Epiphany, which was the celebration of Christ’s revelation to the whole world, or the Gentiles. And the twelve days were represented by symbols (Christ is the partridge in a pear tree, etc.).
In our culture, we have lost this sense of waiting (Advent) and the sense of ongoing celebration represented by the twelve days, but we can, nevertheless, celebrate the birth of Christ by focusing on gifts, service and commitment to others. In that spirit, here are the Twelve “Ways” of Christmas—a dozen ideas and spiritual practices you can use to bring joy and hope to others.
The First Way of Christmas: Remember Christ
We can’t truly celebrate Christmas without giving thanks for the gift of Christ. We can keep Christ in our celebration and our focus by doing some simple things. We can, for example, make a commitment to read Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2 during the days leading up to Christmas. Keeping the Bible narrative front and center helps us to recall the birth of Jesus—even if the story is rote or familiar to us. We may also want to meditate upon the cross each day or light a simple candle to remind us that Christ is the light of the world.
The Second Way of Christmas: Prayer
It is amazing to note how often prayer is mentioned in the months leading up to the birth of Jesus. Mary prays. Elizabeth prays. Joseph prays. Anna prays. Zechariah prays. There is much prayer. When we pray, we work with God to create the life that God has for us. Through prayer, we become more in tune with God’s love and desire for us. Prayer is an important aspect of our walk with God—and we have a need to pray for others, too.
The Third Way of Christmas: Visit Others
During the early months of Mary’s pregnancy, she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is further along in her pregnancy. Mary’s visitation was important to Elizabeth, who greeted Mary with a prayer of thanksgiving. The season of Christmas is certainly deepened when we take the time to visit those in need. Our visits do not have to be lengthy to be effective. Even a drop by or a front porch chat can mean so much to someone who is shut-in, lonely, or feeling depressed. Our visits can have a profound impact on others.
The Fourth Way of Christmas: Prepare for Visitors
The other side of the Mary and Elizabeth visit is this: Elizabeth had to prepare to receive visitors. This is called hospitality. We need to be a hospitable people. In our youth groups, our churches, or even small groups . . . we show God’s love by being open to new people and welcoming them. We can do this in our homes, too. It never hurts to keep a spare set of towels, linens and guest soaps handy. We never know when visitors may drop in. And as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, sometimes we may even be entertaining angels.
The Fifth Way of Christmas: Be Willing to Receive
Every aspect of the birth of Christ is filled with a willingness to receive. Mary had to be willing to receive the gift of the Christ child. Joseph had to be willing to receive Mary after he learned she was pregnant. The shepherds had to be willing to receive the news from the angel. And the magi had to be willing to receive divine instruction. God wants to give us gifts and guidance, too. And how important it is that we be ready to receive what God wants to give. If we are not willing, we can miss some of God’s greatest opportunities.
The Sixth Way of Christmas: Be Watchful
The Shepherds were watchful in the fields. The magi were watchful in their pursuit of the guiding star. We keep Christmas throughout the year when we watch over the things of God, and when we are open to the new paths that God has for us. It is vital to watch and to pray. Be watchful over your youth ministry and trust God to do great things in the coming year.