As a family we strive to keep life simple and focused on caring for others and creation. We work towards this goal by building traditions, around our church year and the seasonal calendar, that are based on making and giving instead of buying and consuming. The past two Christmases we have celebrated Christmastide, trying to lessen the focus on Christmas morning gifts (though gifts under the tree are still quite exciting for all of us.) We extend the celebration by giving to others and spending time with friends and family after the preparations (and often business) of advent are over.
Christmastide lasts for twelve days beginning on Christmas day and ending on Epiphany (January 6th), which is the day when the Christian Church celebrates the wise men arriving to see the Christ child. Traditionally these twelve days have been a time of gathering, feasting and celebrating the birth of Christ.
Our family celebrates with a series of giving quests – one for each of the twelve days of Christmas. Each quest is something to do for others or something that brings us close together with a feeling of celebration. On Christmas morning a line of twelve stockings appears. Each stocking has a scroll with a quest for our family to complete. Some stockings also hold supplies to help us on our quest.
I carefully choose the quests so that they do not create an overburdening amount of work for us. Some days are more labor intensive than others, but many quests are at places we would be anyway. The cat food bank is at our grocer so we will do that quest on the day we do our weekly shopping, and we will dust pews the day we have play group in the church. They also may stem from a family routine, like preparing for our weekly game night with friends or making a meal. As our children age, the quests we choose will be appropriate for their abilities and maturity, and hopefully our children will be involved in designing some of the quests.
To help you picture the Quests, here are our quests for the coming Christmastide:
On the first day of Christmas: Thank the wonderful Christmas gift givers. ~In the stocking will be an address book and creative supplies to make notes, cards and pictures to send as thank-you cards.
On the second day of Christmas: Give food to hungry cats. ~There will be a tin of cat food in the stocking. We will take the cat food to our local donation bank.
On the third day of Christmas: Make cakes for the birds and cookies for the wood gnomes. Don your cape and deliver these Christmas treats to the woods. ~This day the stocking will hold suet, seeds, peanuts and ribbon to make ‘cakes’ and ‘cookies’.
On the fourth day of Christmas: Make and bring a meal to friends. ~In the stocking will be the book Chicken Soup with rice and a menu (i.e. chicken soup with rice, homemade bread, plate of christmas cookies.) We will prepare and deliver the meal to friends with a new baby or other need before having some ourselves.
On the fifth day of Christmas: Get things ready for a game night with friends. ~In the stocking will be a clue to find a new (to us) game and perhaps a recipe for a dessert to share.
On the sixth day of Christmas: Prepare hot chocolate and choose Christmas books to read with friends when they come over to play this morning. ~There will be cocoa and candy canes in the stocking. My son will enjoy choosing Christmas books to read with friends when they arrive for a play date.
On the seventh day of Christmas: Movie Night! ~In the stocking will be one of our favorite Christmas movies and some popping corn.
On the eighth day of Christmas: Send a letter to someone on another continent. ~In the stocking will be supplies to write a letter and send it.
On the ninth day of Christmas: Send a package to your cousins. ~The stocking will hold a few small items of candy (a few to eat and a few to send), picture making supplies, and a few pounds to pick a small car at the toy shop.
On the tenth day of Christmas: Make the church sparkle – dust pews at the church. ~The stocking will hold flannel cloths for dusting.
On the eleventh day of Christmas: Make something and give it secretly.
On the twelfth day of Christmas: Make Epiphany Crowns for dinner guests tonight. ~In the stocking will be supplies to make the crowns – gems, paper, glitter, etc.
Some Tips for Creating Your Own Giving Quests
Think about what things are important to your family (faith, friends, family, imagination, crafting, global concerns, environment, etc.) and try to incorporate those values in your quests.
Make sure you have easier quests to balance out the more time-intensive ones. Remember that the point is to help the family celebrate and give; they don’t have to be huge quests to accomplish this.
I make my quest scrolls without the day’s number and write it in when we open the scroll. That way I can switch the quests the night before if plans need to change.
You can hang a line of stockings, but all you really need are scrolls or slips of paper with the quests on them. You could hang them on the Christmas tree or put them in a bag or wrapped box.
Merry Christmas and Happy Questing!
Emily lives in St. Andrews, Scotland where she learns, makes, reads, sings, and grows with her husband and two wee boys. Emily keeps a blog, Watkins Every Flavor Beans, where she reflects on celebrating the seasonal and church year, as well as the extra ordinary of family life and crafty pursuits.