By Lindsay Hufford
People often groan, sigh, or give me pitying looks when I tell them my birthday is December 26. They ask questions like, “Is it awful?” or “Do people get you one gift for both?” I turned thirty-five this year, and by now I’m used to these reactions.
It can be tough to have a birthday near a major holiday. Cold-weather clothes filled my childhood closet thanks to all the Christmas and birthday outfits purchased for me by family members. I rarely had a birthday party with friends. When I did, it was later in January and a shared party with my sister. I have been sick on my birthday more than once, the bane of birthdays during flu season. Friends have forgotten my birthday in the busyness of the season.
Even taking all this into account, I like having my birthday the day after Christmas. A birthday near Christmas means being surrounded by family on my special day. We live far from my large extended family, so seeing them for Christmas and my birthday is extra special. My mom, whose birthday is New Year’s Eve, understands the challenges of a holiday birthday. She always made sure my birthday is a unique day, wrapping my presents in birthday gift wrap when Christmas paper was more readily available. She made the meal of my choice, which was usually pierogi. We celebrated with cake even though we had stuffed ourselves with three-course dinners and cookies just hours before. December 26 is also the first day of Kwanzaa and Boxing Day in England and Canada. I love the thought of so many people celebrating around the world on my birthday.
After all the anticipation Advent brings, Christmas seems to slip through our fingers like shreds of tissue paper and silky ribbon. For most of us, it’s back to normal life the day after Christmas. Twenty-four hours after celebrating one of the year’s holiest days, we’re back at work or exchanging unwanted gifts at the mall. It seems wrong to observe such a short celebration for such a climactic event. Viewing my birthday as a joyous occasion and not a burden has always felt like a way to extend the hope and festivities of Christmas beyond the day itself.
The early church knew about extending the joy of Christmas. Celebrating Christmas for one day is a modern tradition. Christmas is just the beginning of the season known as Christmastide for those who follow the liturgical calendar.
Christmastide traditionally begins on Christmas Day and lasts until January 6. Christmastide is the origin of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song, and many orthodox and traditional denominations celebrate these twelve days with gift-giving and gatherings. Several feast days take place during this period including the Feast of St. Stephen, martyr for the church, on December 26, and the Feast of Epiphany, the celebration of the magi visiting the infant Jesus, on January 6, which ends the Christmastide season.
As a young child I attended a church whose rich historical tradition observed these liturgical holidays, but I first personally celebrated Christmastide and Epiphany last year. Unlike many years when we travel to visit family for Christmas, we stayed home for the holidays. Family came to stay with us from Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve. We continued the feasting and gathering of Christmastide as we visited with loved ones during that time.
We celebrated the Feast of Epiphany as a family by reading Strega Nona’s Gift by Tomie dePaola, a picture book about a small Italian town’s observance of Epiphany. We followed Strega Nona’s example of making a treat for her livestock by cooking a fruit and oat porridge for our hens and making a traditional king’s cake for ourselves.
It’s tempting to wake up on December 26 thinking Christmas is behind us, looking forward to the New Year and all it will bring. Our culture is so quick to rush from one thing to the next, but there is value in slowing down and savoring the birth of the Savior.
Christmastide invites us to take our time to truly contemplate and celebrate the most miraculous happening: the Savior and Lord of the earth coming in the most vulnerable form—a helpless baby born to a poor, unwed, refugee, teenage mother. Our Christmastide celebrations need not be elaborate, only intentional and meaningful.
This year, set aside the resolutions for a few extra days. Leave the twinkling tree and garland up. Intentionally focus on the magnitude of Christ coming to earth, and celebrate it into the New Year. Let’s extend the joy of Christmas in our homes and hearts, anticipating God’s richest blessings, the ones that come in small, unlikely packages.
Lindsay is a happy wife and homeschooling mom to three kids. Whether she is reading, running, gardening, teaching, cooking, dancing, writing, or chasing hens, she counts it all as joy. Lindsay writes about this beautiful life at searchforthesimple.com.