The Twelfth Day Before Christmas


“I love the holidays!” my 11-year-old daughter, Jessie, exclaimed 12 days before Christmas last year. If we were playing a game that asked for a word to complete the sentence, “I _____ the holidays,” love wouldn’t be my verb. 

Let’s face it — life gets busy. Demands fill our days with stress and anxiety. Who has time to shop, decorate and navigate across airport terminals or interstates?

On this Sunday afternoon, Jessie suggested that we decorate before her mom, Mattie, returned from a nine-day business trip. After eight-and-a-half days of holding down the fort, the last thing I wanted to do was pull out boxes of lights, ribbons and bows.

“Jessie, it’s not worth decorating since we’re leaving in a few days and Christmas will be over by the time we get home.”

Actions speak louder than words, and my daughter is good at using both to accomplish her goals. Before I knew it, the decoration process had begun. 

I carried the heavy box containing the nativity set into the living room. Mattie took 10 years to find the perfect one, so Jessie always hears the “be careful with each piece” speech.

Instead of stressing as she handled each fragile item, I opted to take a nap and let Jessie run with it. I awoke to a scene with the camel figurine next to Baby Jesus and Mary off to the side petting the sheep. As Jessie showed off her handiwork, she pulled Baby Jesus from the manger and said, “Look, Baby Jesus fits in the camel seat!” Concerned that it might fall out of the chair and break, I quickly responded, “No, it’s best to keep Jesus in the manger.”

I had hoped to get away with the nativity set as our only decoration, but Jessie wanted to decorate the entire house. As I headed to the garage and pulled items from boxes, my decorating supervisor followed closely behind.

I carried in the Christmas stockings, the wooden nutcrackers, some holiday stuffed animals, red ribbons and Christmas wreaths. Jessie played the radio as we decorated, but I didn’t enjoy her song selections and asked her to put on Christmas music. Was I getting into the Christmas spirit?

Jessie made a video and posted it on Instagram. She played the role of Clara and danced across the room with the nutcracker. Jessie repeated, “I love the holidays.” I smiled and noticed that my frustration and stress had turned to joy.

Jessie taped two candy canes together to form a heart. She strategically placed stuffed animals all over the house. Finally, I retrieved a string of lights for her headboard. I started at the electrical outlet and strung them over her cabinet and around her nightstand, then over her headboard. Jessie noted that if she had another string, she could go further. She went to the garage and brought back two more sets of lights. I said, “Hey, we might have enough to go around your entire room.” She acknowledged that as her plan. 

During the decorating, Jessie thanked me four or five times. As I stacked the empty boxes against the wall in the garage, Jessie walked out and wrapped her arms around me. “Thank you for decorating for Christmas, Daddy.” I’ll never forget that hug. 

When Mattie returned home that evening, Jessie quickly showed her our afternoon’s work. After bedtime prayers, Mattie, Jessie and the dog rested under the covers in Jessie’s bed, enjoying the colorful lights. Christmas came 12 days early … and I loved it.

Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad and author of “MoMENts: A Dad Holds On,” available at Follow him at and on Twitter @patrickhempfing.

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