Kage Baker and I always observed the full 12 days of Christmas. Partly because it was an old custom, and Kage liked those; partly also to stretch out the season of Yule. After the buildup to Christmas Day, she found it a dreadful let-down to have the whole thing collapse into nothing on the very morning it finally arrived.
Classically, the 12 storied days begin on Christmas, not end there. And they go on until January 6th – variously known as 12th Night, Epiphany, Little Christmas, etc. It’s supposed to be the day that the Magi finally got to the stable – and, it is to be hoped, reinforced the angel’s warning to Joseph and Mary that it was time to clear out of Herod’s ‘hood if they wanted to keep their baby safe.
In modern times, here in the US, Christmas begins the day after Thanksiving and implodes on Christmas Eve. In really devout areas, it seems to begin the day after Halloween … by the time 12th Night rolls around, the stores are displaying Valentines and Easter eggs. We scorned such claim-jumping. Not even Peeps and Cadbury eggs could persuade Kage to abandon the Midwinter festivities before 12th Night.
Kimberly’s family feels much the same. The tree is still up, though it will come down tomorrow. The lights are still strung for the Christmas display, in multi-coloured glory; after tomorrow, we’ll clear off the polychrome and revert to icy white and blue for the duration of January. The seasonal evergreen light over the front door will be changed out for a blue one. Kim and I like to keep a string of lights on the front window year-round, and the colours are changed monthly to reflect the season. What comes after Christmas is frost.
Literally. Even here in Southern California, there are places where frost makes its appearance in the black heart of winter. I live in one of those micro-climates. January is the coldest month down here, and it’s in the last week that we’ve had to begin scraping frost off the cars in the mornings. The lawn recovered nicely from the summer heat, and now we have to worry about frost-kill … but it never lasts long down here.
The Christmas cactus is covered with scarlet flowers twice the length of the hummingbirds that come to raid them; the oxalis is showing its first neon-yellow blooms, the rosemary is covered with pale-blue flowers. Various bulbs are displaying blunt anonymous buds rising through the mulch of dead leaves to surprise us. No, the frost won’t last; but while it’s here, we’ll honour it with the appropriate lights.
This is what Kage and I always did, and it’s a joy to me that Kimberly still does it, too. I like the domestic habit of helping the seasons along their path with ritual lights. It’s one of the great advantages of electricity! Though if I had to do it with candles or oil, I would. I have, not always having lived where current flows … and despite the fact that I have a fibre optic Christmas tree plugged into the UCB port of my computer even as I write this, it’s keeping company with coloured candle cups: just in case the power fails.
Gotta keep the lights lit. That’s something in which Kage’s determination never faltered, whether it was votive candles on top of her view screen or the lamps she lit in the windows for every Quarter Day’s changes. If we want the light to dwell with us, we have to make it sure knows where we live, right?