Keeping the Feast: 12 Days of Christmas

Keeping the Feast: 12 Days of Christmas

“Early on the Second Day of Christmas, I was thinking about a creative way to “keep the feast” that might fill actually fill my sails a bit and connect me with the wonder of the season.”


Christmas is a 12 Day Feast

I’ve lived my whole adult life on an academic calendar, and that means I usually stumble into a little down time between Christmas and New Year’s. I rarely spend Days 2 through 6 of the twelve-day Christmas feast in a way I feel good about. Either I shut down completely and regret having been a zombie, or I try to squeeze in more work than is wise or humane. Last year I was studying for a big exam, so this temptation was especially pronounced. And so, early on the Second Day of Christmas, I was thinking about a creative way to “keep the feast” that might fill actually fill my sails a bit and connect me with the wonder of the season.

Among the materials I had on hand was a pack of multicolored origami paper I’d bought during a supply run in support of our newly instituted family art time. I opened it up, got out my scissors, and crafted what popped in my head: two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

With that, my #12days practice was off and running.


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Two of us, in this together. #12days #doves

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From craft project to playful teaching tool

Over the next week and a half, I gave my scissors a workout. Each day I posted an image to social media with the appropriate gifts from the carol, along with an accompanying short poem. My intent was to produce a shareable work each day; I was working at being creative (and not ugly)—cut paper is a forgiving medium.

Over the course of the project, people had lots of great ideas about how the images were resonating with them and how they might be used. Judy Howard and others noticed that it felt like a quilting practice. Janet Wamsley said it helped bring a familiar song to life in a new way. On Day 9 (ladies dancing), Greta Mesics had a very concrete suggestion, “I work in a public school with real Littles: grades k through 2. They would love this artwork and the counting. They love holiday songs and are great at celebrating. A children’s project book? Fun to think about…”

A book didn’t really fit my schedule (remember that big exam?) or my talents, but considering the surprising success of the Holy Eucharist Illuminated liturgy teaching card project, I started wondering if cards might be an even better medium for some of the learning modes Greta and others had suggested.

It took me several months of tedious Photoshopping to digitize the original art, but now I can hold in my hand—and lay out on a table—playing card versions of all 78 gifts. So can you!


How and why to use #12days

I believe in creating open-ended tools that inspire teachers and learners to make their own creative meaning. But here are a few ideas that I and others have come up with:

Teach the song, or math:
Greta’s right—kids love to count and sing. This carol is a famously fertile source of math and even economics lessons. Use the cards or poster to make those activities and sing-alongs more concrete and visually engaging.

Remember, cards are a big part of tabletop gaming because they’re endlessly flexible.

#12days of remix:
Don’t like the way I’ve depicted the gifts? Think “maids a-milking,” etc., are not just hard to draw but also pretty bizarre and out-of-touch hypothetical Christmas presents?

Create your own art, or rewrite the song with more meaningful items. Even though the “secret catechism” hypothesis seems dubious, that doesn’t need to stop you from deciding what the gifts might mean to Christians.

Keep the feast:
Whether you want high-res images for your publications or low-res versions for social media, you can use the images to “hold the space” for celebration in homes or on social media (feel free to grab them here).

There’s a lot of wisdom and insight built in to the church calendar’s journey from Christmas to the Epiphany. And yet there’s every reason for holiday fatigue to have us bah humbugging by the 28th. Committing to a short-term practice—even a silly one—can draw us more deeply into the beautiful mystery of the incarnation.

Whether or not you want these cards in your hands, I hope some kind of #12days observance or activity can be a springboard for fun and reflection in your home, church, or school in the days ahead.

You can purchase the 12 Days of Christmas as a deck of 78 printed playing cards, as a high-resolution image gallery download, or as postcards, greeting cards, or a large-format poster. If you save and use the free versions, please attribute to “Kyle Oliver via (CC BY 2.0)”.


Kyle Matthew Oliver is an Episcopal priest and doctoral student studying educational media. His website Creative Commons Prayer features spiritual prompts and resources to reuse and remix.

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