The Four Days of Christmas: How One Pastor Copes With the Rush of Christmas

Last night it started.  We call it The Four Days of Christmas.   Four—not twelve?  I know it sounds odd.  Hear me out.

One of the nutty things we did in the early years of our family with four young children, was to try to cram too much Christmas into one Christmas Day.   The kids would get up early and tumble down the stairs head first.  They opened stockings.   By the time we got to the gifts, a numbness had already set in.  They were over-saturated.  When our cousins gathered for dinner, if they happened to bring gifts, I knew we were in trouble.   My kids were glassy eyed, over-stimulated and ungrateful.   The next day, we went through the morning after Christmas syndrome like everyone else, and we couldn’t believe how quickly the whole thing was over.

Of course, all this is complicated for a pastor’s family because you have to prepare a message and be at church on Christmas Eve.    Throw in multiple services on December 24th and there is no time for much of anything on that day but church.   For instance, this year we have four Christmas Eve services:  4.00, 5.30, 7.30 and 9.30.  For our family, it is even more complex still, because my wife is a violinist, and musicians play a lot in December—including Christmas Eve.

Granted. Most people don’t have to deal with ministry obligations like this.  But I am convinced that for those who do, there are wiser, more sane, ways to “do Christmas” than we typically do.   What we did was to stretch out Christmas to four days!

There is good precedent for this.  After all, in the history of the church Christmas is a season, not just a day.   The Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, as the 25th has been sometimes called, is part of the larger season of Christmastide, which for some last twelve days.  You’ve heard of The Twelve Days of Christmas, haven’t you?

So how did we cope with the rush of Christmas?   We stretched it out for four days.   We have a special dinner with just our family on the eve of Christmas Eve.  What we used to do on the evening of the 24th we do now on the evening of December 23rd.  Often we will watch a Christmas movie afterwards.   

The 24th for our family is church day.  We encourage everyone to be active in services on Christmas Eve.   When they were younger, some  of the children sang.  These days, they sometimes do a public reading of Scripture.   But they all know mom and dad have lots of responsibilities that day.  We encourage them to participate as well.   This has the wonderful effect of putting the focus on Christ.

On Christmas Day, our kids get  their stockings only.   In the afternoon, we usually have dinner with grandparents and cousins. 

It is the day after Christmas, (known as Boxing Day in England) that we all open our presents.

Now, you may think that this is cruel and unusual punishment to children—i.e. that we do not allow them to open their gifts on Christmas Day.   Truth is, they got used to it quickly.  Now our kids prefer it this way.  They like that mom and dad have slowed Christmas down, without cutting church out, and actually have more time celebrating the holiday than we used to.

I’ll admit, for those who are not in ministry, this plan may sound rather strange.  But for those who are, you will recognize it not only as one person’s creative road out of Christmas chaos, but also as a wonderful way to distress the day.  It actually gives us more Christmas in Christmas.

True, it’s not The Twelve Days of Christmas, but it’s moving in the right direction. 

May I commend a similar creative wisdom to you if you find your Christmases too chaotic?

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  • ucljames says:

    A very wise and reasonable plan…

  • Abby says:


    Sounds like a great idea to me…we are still trying to recover from the whirlwind of Christmas day and jamming everything in!

    Two questions:
    How did you get your extended family on board with the change of dates (we’re close enough in proximity to my family that it impacts us all)?

    What do you do when Christmas falls near a Sunday (i.e. the day before or day after…do you adjust your 4 day plan at all?)

    Thanks for the input!

    • dwsweeting says:

      First of all, they knew we had no choice on Christmas Eve. It is part of pastoral responsibilities.
      The night before that, did not involve them.
      Christmas day for us really only involved dinner and we never spend the night.

      In your case, you could do stockings at home, and then leave early for your parents. Spend the day and come back at the end of the day.
      But I know that may not be the best since they have made it easy for you all to spend the night now. Unless, you brought presents down there for the next day.
      Or, you could do 5 days and wait till you got home. But that might be a tough sell.

      Whatever you do, slow it down and enjoy it more.

      Thanks to you and Zac for all you contribute to the life of CCPC.


  • Jeanne Gaessler says:

    This is the wisdom Gary and I have been seeking as our family becomes more involved in church ministry. We were absent this year from services over Christmas, for the every reasons you write about, slowing down the running around while managing extended family from out-of-town. We worshiped Christ as a family but truly missed celebrating with our church this year at our favorite candle light service. Thank you for sharing your traditions!

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