It is the Sixth Day of Christmas. Without, the world is cloaked in gloom, dripping with rain and endless mist, but within the lights on the tree and the candles scattered about gleam with increasing warmth. I love this point in the season, when the rooms are tidy and set to rights, the greenery is still fresh, and there’s little more on the agenda than another cup of tea and a stack of new books to peruse. The days leading up to Christmas were a flurry of preparation—stocking the freezer, making beds, setting tables and washing up, only to iron the linens, polish a bit of silver, and set the tables again. I clipped holly and ivy from the yard and arranged my beloved blood-red roses; I filled the larder with tins of cookies, rolled out cinnamon buns, made grocery lists, wrapped gifts, pored anxiously over both candy and meat thermometers, boxed up sweets to send across the miles. In short, my days have looked much like those of other women, all over the world and down throughout history, endeavoring to shape in sugar and sparkle, taste, fragrance, and memory, a holiday which enwraps those we love in practical affection and wholesomely impractical abundance.
It is that very abundance, however, which makes these 12 Days so welcome—I would even say necessary to the full enjoyment of Christmas for me. In a world always racing to the next thing, a world in which expectations mount to a fever-pitch and then topple in satiety and exhaustion, keeping the 12 Days of Christmas has always felt like a counter-cultural push against the excesses and demands of an increasingly secular society. Love and sacrifice are what make Christmas so special—I know this from watching my mother and reflecting on the seeming ease with which she created such everyday magic for us growing up. Her love was a tangible thing, linking us to each other and to the story from which we, as a family, had sprung. But love also looks like quietness and space, a gentle making of room for the beauties of the Incarnation to invade our homes and our lives with its earth-shattering wonder. Mama modelled this for me, too, though I didn’t fully appreciate it until I was an adult. I just knew that, in our house, Christmas didn’t end until well after New Year’s. Extending things a few days through the Feast of the Epiphany has never felt like much of a stretch.
And so, today, I am keeping and pondering the goodness of a truly happy Christmas—a thing I will never again take for granted. After a decade of heartache and loss—on the heels of a year in which everyone’s plans were upended and loss became a global lament—I am celebrating the fact that so many of the old and loved things remain in place. That my sister was able to come home for Christmas. That Zoom allowed us to see our darling nephew under his first Christmas tree. That we were well and able to celebrate our cherished Christmas Eve brunch with family and friends-like-family. I am thankful for last-minute places set at the table; for impromptu carol sings by the piano; for happy tears and for rooms ringing with laughter and mirth. (I am even thankful for the half-eaten gingerbread man I found in the Common Room upstairs yesterday, signifying as it does the ease with which the children all make themselves at home here on Christmas…)
On Christmas Eve, my sister and I donned flower crowns fashioned of roses and wax flowers, winterberries and white hypericum. It was a bit of girlish fancy, and a nod to the sweetness of Christmases past. But it also called to mind, with swift and breathtaking poignancy, Dickens’ merry spectre of Christmas Present, robed in fur and crowned with holly, seated atop piles of abundance and insisting with ever-increasing urgency that the moment we’re in is the only real home of our joy. That the present, howsoever meagre or shrouded with uncertainty, is where eternity intersects with the affairs of life and Love is actively present among us. The past might be a tender treasure (or a painful thorn), and the future an unwritten slate. But the present—ah, here is God’s gift to us in mercies breaking new over the world and goodness springing from even the most unlikely of circumstances.
And so, I am thankful for a Merry Christmas, in the dearest, simplest, most old-fashioned sense. I honor all the tactile ways in which Christmas takes its cherished place among us for these few, fleeting days in the year: the holly and the ribbons, the glitter and the warmth, the tang of spices, the beloved old carols and the comfort of family recipes. And I honor the ways in which its incarnational realities seep into the ordinary substance of our lives. We celebrate Christmas because Jesus became a human, took our weary, wounded nature upon Him, “moved into the neighborhood,” as Eugene Peterson has said, and set in motion the grand subversion of evil and death—the restoration of all things. Take heart, friends, and take joy—we are not alone in this bewildering slog through history. Our God is with us—and that makes all the difference.
In closing, I would like to share a bit of wondrous news with you. At least, it’s wondrous for me, having dreamed my whole life of seeing a real book of mine in print. Yes! I am thrilled (and a bit dazed) to report that, coming in 2022, Rabbit Room Press is publishing my very first book, “Glad and Golden Hours.” Part-memoir, part-cookbook, it’s an invitation to prepare both our hearts and our homes for Advent and Christmas. My dear friend Jennifer Trafton is illustrating it, and, y’all, I am absolutely giddy over what I’ve already seen. She has managed to capture, with whimsy and delight, the true spirit of my ideals and the joy of an entirely approachable, old-fashioned Christmas. You will be hearing much more about this from me in the days to come–and your prayers are much appreciated as I double-down towards my deadline in the New Year. But I wanted to drop this here like a little Christmas present–for those of you who are new to this space and those who have followed along from the very beginning. All throughout the process of seeing this book become a reality I have remembered the words of Catherine Marshall: ““Dreams carried around in one’s heart for years, if they are dreams that have God’s approval, have a way of suddenly materializing.”
It does feel very sudden, though Jennifer and I have been hard at work behind the scenes for over a year. But announcing it here makes it seem more real. For you, dear readers, are the kind hearts who have caught my early words and welcomed my ideals with a warmth which struck courage in me to make this attempt in the first place. I am grateful to all of you, and grateful to The Rabbit Room for giving this book a home on its shelves. And if you’d like to follow along, you can catch many a glimpse and a peek on our Instagram accounts: @gladandgoldenhours, @jtraftonart, and @lanierivester.
And so, Merry Christmas, friends! I hope the next six days are graced with wonder and laced with delight for you. I hope your heart is strengthened with the gladsome fact of God-with-us, and that your New Year breaks with renewed expectation in the goodness of God. I hope you know your own belovedness, and that you know the very heart of Christmas, which is Love.
P.S. So many of you have asked about my ‘home’ memoir, which, I am happy to report is well into its second revision. It is resting quietly in the background at present while I finish “Glad and Golden Hours,” but I shall keep you updated on its progress, as well. 🙂