Let’s set the mood for the post.
In America, we tend to celebrate the holiday season by decorating after Thanksgiving and cramming as much festive cheer as possible into the days leading up to December 25th. Then when December 25th arrives, you’ll open presents with family in the morning and conclude the evening with an underwhelming dinner. At least, that’s what you’ll do if you are me. It’s a nice enough way to spend a day, and I can’t deny that getting presents is pretty sweet, but it doesn’t feel right.
Historically, Christmas wasn’t just one day but twelve days of partying and festivity known as “Christmastide.” December 25th was the first official day of Christmastide, and the following days had their significance. For example, December 26th is “St. Stephen’s Day,” and December 28th is “The Feast of the Holy Innocents.” The last day of Christmastide is January 5th, also known as “Twelfth Night.” The following day, January 6th is Epiphany or Three Kings Day. Christmastide is technically observed by the Catholic Church, as well as by some other churches, but is not well-known in the United States. (All of this is slightly different from Yule, which also deserves its own celebration)
This is a cultural event that I think a lot of Americans are missing out on. How many people do you know who seem to shut down mentally during the time between Christmas and New Years? They’ll sleep until noon, eat cake for lunch, and then maybe scan their work e-mail, completely without direction. For some people, this is a necessary time to stop and recharge. However, for other people, lunch cake is just a fun way of disguising depression. Not every culture indulges in this experience.
In many cultures, Three Kings Day is when families and communities engage in most of their celebrating, gift-giving, and nativity-scening. Three Kings Day is in reference to when the three wise men, Balthazar, Melchior, and Caspar, bestowed their gifts upon the baby Jesus. For example, my friends in the Dominican Republic have told me that they celebrate differently from Americans. In the Dominican Republic, January 6th is when children are given presents (or money for presents). In all honesty, if you celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, then saving the gift-giving for the day Jesus got his presents makes more sense. But I’m not religious, so what do I know.
With that in mind, some people may need some inspiration to enjoy this time between the 25th and before the 6th. To help those people and to inspire myself, I’ve written a list of suggestions for people to make the most of their Christmastide.
What to do during the Twelve Days of Christmas:
- If you spent Christmas Day with family, plan a day with friends!
- Reach out to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while to catch up.
- If you have a friend who spent the 25th alone, consider this a sign to reach out and see how they’re doing. The holidays can be isolating for some people, and a short conversation could be the key to lifting someone’s spirits.
- Check up on your neighbors and see if they need anything.
- Bake some cookies for your neighbors or give them a gift to commemorate a year of them not calling the HOA on you.
- Bake some cookies for yourself, like any of the recipes I’ve included in this post.
- Bake something more elaborate or time-consuming, like gingerbread cookies for a gingerbread house.
- Bake a traditional Christmas cake and then invite people over to eat it.
- Try to listen to new music associated with the holiday season, like a Celtic Christmas album, or maybe Finland has a terrifying death metal band with a Christmas album.
- Watch a Christmas movie you didn’t get around to in early December, like “Christmas in Connecticut.”
- Watch a Christmas movie that’s technically also a New Years’ Eve movie, like “While You Were Sleeping.”
- Watch a foreign Christmas movie set during Christmastide, like the 2021 Spanish Netflix film “1000 Miles from Christmas.“
- Watch a New Years’ movie, like “Snowpiercer” (It counts!)
- Throw a New Years’ party for friends and family. And then invite me, because I don’t have any plans for New Years’ Eve.
- Try to sing “Auld Lang Syne” without crying.
- Have a cozy night in on New Years Eve, either by yourself or with someone else. And make a vasilopita!
- Accounting Advice: Before New Year’s Day, make sure to get in all your donations! Any time is a good time to donate to a non-profit you like, but before the end of the year is great because it helps out the non-profit, and you might remember it for your tax return.
- Are you by yourself for the holidays? Then today is the day to download Bumble BFF and find someone you can hang out with (Full disclosure: I haven’t tried Bumble BFF out yet, but my friends have, and they’ve met some really nice people!)
- Try a hot chocolate from any café you encounter and then hold a competition in your mind to determine which one is the best.
- Make your own hot cocoa, unless it’s the Swiss Miss-just-add-hot-water monstrosity because that’s barely a step above hot dog water.
- Make eggnog from scratch!
- Have you ever heard of alcohol? Some people think it’s pretty dope. If you like a little boozer, then maybe you should learn to prep a nice holiday cocktail for guests or a hot toddy for yourself!
- Watch old holiday episodes of “Semi-Homemade” and either try to recreate one of Sandra Lee‘s monstrosities, like the revolting “Santa’s Sleigh Cocktail” or the infamous “Kwanzaa Cake.”
- Spend a few hours exploring the closest city. If I were still in eastern Washington for the holidays, I would have liked to spend more time exploring Spokane.
- Suppose you live in a city, especially in the Bay Area. In that case, there are a million and a half things to do, so take advantage of your location and go out adventuring.
- If you want to do something for free in your city, check if there is a dedicated website like “SF Fun Cheap.”
- If you’re feeling snooty and want to support the arts, I recommend looking up if your city has a symphony or a ballet. The ballet will likely have performances of “The Nutcracker” after December 25th, and the symphony will probably also have performances throughout the new year.
- Speaking of “The Nutcracker,” spend five minutes watching the prep ballet dancers put into that show because the sheer athleticism of those dancers is mind-blowing. I recommend doing this while gorging on Christmas candy to maximize your self-loathing.
- If you want to support the arts but don’t live near a major city, then consider this a time to invest in local theatre! There may be a production nearby that you would like to attend.
- Look up a local skating rink and go ice skating. I like to psych myself up and say, “This is the year I’ll get out on the ice,” and then chicken out at the last minute because I am a Weebles Wobbles.
- Plan a Christmastide adventure that takes you out of the city (if you live in Oakland or San Jose, try going further than San Francisco). If you live in the midwest or the east coast, where a 45-minute drive is “no big,” try finding a place at least an hour away.
- If you want to avoid traveling anywhere, take a hot girl (or guy) walk around your local neighborhood and see if there’s anything you haven’t seen before.
- If you live in a warm climate, try to go somewhere with snow. It may be possible to do this in a day!
- If you can engage in winter activities, then you should! Go sledding, build a snowman, take a snowboarding or skiing lesson, or make snow angels. Please your inner child.
- If you’re sick of the snow, then drive west until you hit a beach.
- If you live near a body of water, it’s probably too cold to swim, but it’s not too cold to let your dogs run with reckless abandon along the shore.
- Read a classic holiday tale, like “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens.
- Read a cute holiday romance, like “In a Holidaze,” by Christina Lauren.
- Read weird holiday smut, like “A Court of Sugar and Spice,” by Rebecca F. Kenney.
- If you’ve been curious about how another culture celebrates the holidays, there’s no better time to research it.
- Read up on your folklore, American or otherwise!
- Wake up before noon and go outside.
- Are you over the age of 35? Cool, it’s time to pick up birding as a hobby.
- This is a good time to go through your old stuff and donate what you no longer need, though feel free to re-gift if you think someone might love it.
- Clean your house for the New Year! Not only is this standard for many cultures, but you’ll probably enjoy having a fridge cleared of the rotting remains of your Thanksgiving leftovers.
- Get to work on “Thank-You” cards for all of the kind presents you have received.
- If you couldn’t send out a Christmas card, congratulations, friend, because I just bought you some time. Send out a card by Twelfth Night, and you’re good!
- Throw a Twelfth Night Party, which resembles a Christmas or New Year’s Party.
- The play “Twelfth Night” supposedly has no connection to the holiday, but we can change that, so consider this your sign to read the play or watch a version of it.
- And finally: get started on baking that king’s cake for Epiphany.
So readers, how do you plan on celebrating the rest of Christmastide?