Rejoicing in Christmas: How to Celebrate Fully the 12 Days

Family-friendly ideas to savor in the slower days after the big solemnity itself.

(photo: Unsplash)

For families, there can be temptation at Christmastime to pack everything into Advent — both the preparation and celebration crammed into a season meant for peaceful anticipation.

This is actually a distortion of the liturgical year, in which the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ begins on Christmas and continues for a full 12 days!

If we can align our practices this time a little closer to the Church rather than the culture, we just may find some of the byproducts of a rightly ordered life: serenity, attention and receptivity of the gifts God wants to give.

When we enter into what the Church intends, our families will find surprising amounts of gratitude and joy in simple things and maybe even a deeper sense of the sacred. We can take a deep breath and continue our celebration with increased focus on the gifts of time, prayer and each other.

Rather than being a let-down among crumpled bows and discarded toys, the days following Christmas are deliberately given to us by the Church to enter deeply into the mystery of Christmas and its living extension within our own families. Here are some specifically family-friendly ideas to savor in the slower days after the big solemnity itself.


Surprise for Mom

Attention, dads: a post-holiday mom’s favorite Christmas gift just might be a much-deserved nap while you take the kids ice skating or out for pizza. Continue the gift-giving with a lovely, completely unexpected, surprise necklace on her pillow from Telos Art Shop.


Movie-Night Fun

Let the chilly weather be an excuse to stay home (as if you needed one!) and enjoy a traditional Christmas movie like The Bells of St. Mary’s or Come to the Stable. It’s a Wonderful Life is a favorite for a reason. Little kids with shorter attention spans will find A Charlie Brown Christmas delightful, and parents might rediscover how much they enjoy it, too. Teenage boys will stick around when you put on Joyeux Noel, the true story of the impromptu truce between warring troops on a special Christmas Eve during the First World War.

With things winding down after the holiday rush, there may even be time to watch a series over several nights. Announce a marathon movie week. The Lord of the Rings trilogy or The Chronicles of Narnia are timeless classics. (All movies are available at

Each viewing night can include a new surprise to keep things fun: Have the kids take turns opening packages of soft throws, fuzzy socks or a canister of hot cocoa with fun candy stirrers.

Anticipate movie night by spending a leisurely afternoon stirring up popcorn balls or treats to enjoy during the show. If baking is stressful before the holidays, it can be wonderful to discover how much fun it is when the pressure is over. Kids love to cook, and when they get your attention as an added ingredient, it is the perfect Christmas mix. A fun recipe can be found online at


Family Time

Too much TV? How about bringing back the tradition of reading aloud? Imagine the kids curled up while Mom and Dad take turns reading from A Christmas Carol. You don’t have to be a great orator to enchant your children, and you might just be creating a new family tradition.

Set some surprises out at the breakfast table and let the kids unwrap a few books, puzzles, art supplies or board games you’ve intentionally saved for these 12 days. Spend the day enjoying quiet activities together. ChrómaCat, a Catholic company, sells exquisite greyscale mosaics for coloring — the budding artists in your family can create something frameable to gift a grandparent or neighbor and extend the season of gift-giving.


Post-Christmas Get-Together

And maybe you couldn’t squeeze much entertaining in before the big day, but there’s a family somewhere that would love to be invited over for a low-key evening. Let the kids explore each other’s new toys while the parents relax with a glass of wine and a tasty charcuterie board, reason alone to plan a post-Christmas get-together.

Here is a good recipe from


Christmas Prayer

Keep the prayer coming, too! Plan an early-morning daily Mass as a family and make breakfast together when you come home.

Or how surprising would it be for each child to find a special new rosary wrapped on their dinner plate one night? Break the beads in with the Joyful Mysteries by the fire that evening. Lovely rosaries are available from Immaculata Grace Rosaries. The shop does custom orders, too.


Sacred Song

Don’t stop the sacred music. We should be singing Christmas songs for the entire season, even if the radios have cut the seasonal tunes off midnote on the 26th.

Let the sounds in your home echo the chorus in heaven. Try this chart-topping recording from the Dominicans of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring: Christmas With the Dominican Sisters of Mary, available via EWTN Religious Catalogue, Item: 4125C.


Memorable Reminiscing

Dig out the old family photo albums. Take the slow time after Christmas to talk about relatives from past generations the kids may never have met.

Tell family stories and share memories from your own Christmases as children. You may have visiting relatives who can chime in with their own versions of family lore. Such tales are treasures to children, little glimpses into your life and how you remember celebrating Christ’s birth.

Our consumer culture continues after the holidays with even more sales, and it can be tempting to continue shopping, stocking up on deals for next year.

Swap shopping for hiking, sledding, building a snow fort in the backyard or another outdoor activity as a family — extend the festive fun with the special people in your life.

Overall, create space for the real stuff that matters: the very souls that Christ came to earth to save. Merry Christmas!

Claire Dwyer is editor of and coordinates

adult faith formation at her parish in Phoenix, where she lives with her husband and their six children.