When you marry, there are important things to negotiate with your beloved. Will it be mayo or Miracle Whip? NPR or Contemporary Christian on the car radio? Open presents Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?

My mother-in-law would put up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving night. It would be down, de-decorated, and to the curb, by dinner Christmas Day. In the same way as I get frustrated that 24/7 Christmas music ends at the stroke of midnight Dec. 25, her end of Christmas was just too soon.

As a pastor I don’t always get our own family’s Christmas complete by the 25th. Gifts can be purchased and wrapped even after the holiday ends for others. Christmas cookies could be baked after the holiday was over for others. The tree might be taken down by the end of January.

A friend who grew up in England introduced me to the 12 days of Christmas—not the song but the practice. The season of Advent, starting on Dec. 1, is for preparation for the birth of the child. We count down the days as we prepare room in our hearts for the coming of Christ. My friend observed we celebrate Christmas as if the birth of the child is the end of the story. All parents know the birth is just he beginning.

To keep Christmas all year, you are invited to keep one Christmas item out. A piece of the Nativity set, some mistletoe, an ornament, a beautiful Christmas card. Keep it out all year to remember that Christmas is not just a day but an openness of heart. Christmas comes when we are doing the work of God. This is how we keep Christ in Christmas—allowing his light to shine through our service all year.

During these days following Christmas, we hear the words of Dr. Howard Thurman:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,

to heal the broken,

to feed the hungry,

to release the prisoner,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among the people,

to make music in the heart.

Merry Christmas!