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Christmas for More Than a Day

Traditions that keep Christ at the center of our hearts and homes

By Ashley Kepper

With the feast of the Epiphany celebrated Sunday in most U.S. parishes and the traditional Jan. 6 Epiphany date a day away, many families face a pressing question. When to end the Christmas season? Hopefully, this question will not cause any post-Christmas angst!

While it can be an incredibly joyful time, Christmas can also be associated with stress and questions about the best way to celebrate and to combat the secularism and materialism of our culture. Should you tell about Santa or stick with stories of St. Nicholas? How many gifts are reasonable for children? When do you put up and take down decorations? Some families toss the tree right after the New Year, and a few more traditional ones keep it up till Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation or Candlemas. I have been in circles where discussions have become extremely heated over such issues, but for the most part, faithful moms want to do the best for their children to have a blessed, joyful, holy Christmas, and not be scarred for life or spoiled rotten.

As we close the Christmas season in our own ways, it may be a good time to consider what we do and why, and look at some new traditions to incorporate into our family life. Here are some practices my husband and I have adopted to keep Christ at the center of our Christmas:

Appearing. Although we put up a nativity scene during Advent, Baby Jesus remains hidden until Christmas morning. As a child, I remember looking at the crèche before Christmas and recognizing how empty and incomplete it appeared without the baby in the crib. I look forward to Christmas morning when I show my daughter the Baby Jesus that suddenly “appeared” in the crib overnight.

Reading. In 2009, during our first Christmas together, my husband said that the first thing to do on Christmas morning is to read the story of Jesus’ birth from the Bible. I remembered this when our daughter was born and now also read her a children’s book each day throughout the Christmas season.

Baking. While my daughter doesn’t remember last year’s Christmas, I know that one of her favorite traditions will be our birthday cake for Baby Jesus. After dinner, we sing to Jesus and eat a birthday cake that we bake for him as a family. This reinforces his birthday as the reason for the season.

Personal Prayers. One of our newest traditions! Last year, a close friend gave me a special ornament with the words “Christmas Prayers” painted on it. It is a clear, plastic ball with small pieces of paper inside. The idea behind the ornament is for family members to write prayers on the pieces of paper for that particular year. Then, when the family is decorating the tree the following year, the previous year’s prayers can be read. I look forward to starting this tradition and cherishing these prayers written by our family members throughout the years.

Watching. Another way in which we keep the birth of Christ in our hearts on Christmas day is to watch the 2006 movie The Nativity Story. This year, I also purchased an animated DVD on the Nativity for us to watch together.

Commemorating. So not to overdo gifts for our daughter, we give her three main gifts on Christmas Day, in commemoration of the gifts of the Magi for Baby Jesus. I asked her godmother what she does to continue to celebrate Christmas through Epiphany, and I ended up loving her tradition. She gives her children a wrapped stocking stuffer on each of the 12 days. While these aren’t large gifts, children look forward to opening one each morning.

Our culture typically recognizes December 26 as a day for door-busting, after-Christmas sales and gift returning refunds. Many neighborhood associations even require that Christmas decorations be taken down by January 1. As Catholics, we are blessed to celebrate Christmas for longer than a day. Christmas as a season begins with evening prayer or Mass on Dec. 24 (Christmas Eve) and ends with the Baptism of the Lord, the Sunday following the Epiphany. In between, we celebrate the feasts of the Holy Family, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and the Three Kings of the Epiphany.

There are numerous traditions which can keep Christmas alive for the entire season, not merely for a moment. These are ways to fill our time with the joy, hope, peace and love that can permeate our hearts and homes and deepen our faith for the coming year.

Ashley Kepper and her husband, Jimmy, live in St. Marys, Ga., with their 2-year-old daughter.