How the church stole Christmas!

Today is January 6. It’s the 12th day of Christmas.

I didn’t need 12 drummers drumming to remind me of that fact. There is a cadence in my clergyman’s heart that helped me long ago learn to mark time in such a way to extend the yuletide season as long as possible.

For as long as I can remember, Christmas has been my favorite holiday. I love the music. My poetic soul resonates to the lights, color and non-stop rituals associated with the season. My children haven’t always shared my enthusiasm. Having a pastor for a father meant that Dad had to be away from home more than other dads. And, though I really enjoyed all the commitments of Christmas, they were not as impressed.

While other families took exotic vacations or visited relatives, we stayed behind for Christmas Eve services. Since our families lived at a distance, we occasionally caught red-eye flights or drove for hours after the midnight service to open presents with grandparents on Christmas morning.

Our girls always knew who Santa Claus was — Daddy. But it took much longer to convince them that I was not the Grinch who stole Christmas. That I bore little resemblance to the green guy in their Dr. Seuss book was beside the point. They just knew that church was taking their father from them and robbing them of a full-fledged festival.

Wendy and I took our girls’ feelings to heart. We decided to create holiday traditions unique to our family that would compensate for what my occupation tended to steal from them.

On Dec. 1, three little ceramic kings begin a five-week journey from the far end of our home to the nativity scene atop our piano. They move a little each day.

Our church has Swedish roots, so we decided to celebrate Santa Lucia Day (Dec. 13). This angelic girl martyred in the third century is heralded for giving up her dowry to care for the poor. Wendy, wearing a crown of candles, wakes the family by carrying a tray of warm bread and hot cocoa room to room. She sings words I’ve written to the old Italian melody “Santa Lucia.”

We give new meaning to the phrase “peace on earth, goodwill to men” by giving one present purchased from a Goodwill thrift store. Recycled gifts are a hoot. In addition, what we spend goes to help needy people.

Because much of Christmas Eve is spent getting ready for services that night, we go out for breakfast at an especially nice restaurant. We even ask the waitress to take our picture, which we include in a special book that has 26 years of snapshots.

Our favorite tradition is a Day of the Kings celebration. Today is Epiphany, which commemorates the day when the magi arrived in Bethlehem to worship the Christ child. Tonight our dinner table will be graced with individual quilted crowns containing three small gifts. After a Chinese meal, we’ll read the Biblical story of the magi and “The Story of the Other Wise Man.” We’ll sing “We Three Kings” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” celebrating the fact that the little Asian wise men have finally joined the nativity scene on the piano.

My family still bristles at times when they realize my Christmas responsibilities will prevent us from having the same freedom as other families enjoy. But with the traditions we’ve established, they look forward to Christmastime as much as I do. You might consider creating some unique customs of your own. At least keep celebrating until “the twelve night.”

Pastor Greg Asimakoupoulos is the head of the Mercer Island Covenant Church and a regular contributor to the Reporter. You can reach him at

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