– by Mary Ellen Wolfe, Co-Founder of Twelve Days
Like many traditions, the exact year we began hanging twelve little boxes on our Christmas tree is lost in the mists of time and foggy memory, but it was close to 30 years ago. Perhaps I could figure this out someday, but with the launch of our business there has been no time yet to sift through the photos accumulated in drawers from the early years when we couldn't afford photo albums. And, like the Twelve Days of Christmas themselves, the real roots of our tradition reach back through the generations, even before the little boxes became a part of our Christmas.
When I was a little girl, Christmas was the most magical time of the year – and did not fade so quickly at my home as it seemed to at our neighbors' houses. Although the multi-colored lights that framed my bedroom window and twinkled on our Christmas tree were not put in place until shortly before Christmas Day, my parents continued to turn on our lights each night until January 6, long after the neighbors' lights were extinguished and their trees dismantled and placed at the curb.
My mother referred to January 6 as "Little Christmas" and, beginning at some point in grade school, my little sister and I would awake on the morning of January 6 to find a small gift on each of our nightstands in the room we shared. We felt special that Christmas lasted so much longer – twelve days longer – in our family.
Fast forwarding, my husband Pat and I were college students when Jonathon was born. Our preparations for Christmas were postponed by necessity until after finals in December but our enjoyment of the season was not condensed. Although it might have started later, Christmas lasted in our tiny apartment until January when classes resumed once again for the winter session at UC Davis. And so, Christmas began as an extended holiday in our new little family.
As students, money was extremely tight, but on the other hand I had the luxury of time during the break to look for bargains at after-Christmas sales. Although the university was located in Davis, in the late 70's there was still only a small downtown, more in keeping with its roots as an agricultural outpost. Davis Hardware and Lumber store was the biggest store in town and carried not only building supplies but a variety of housewares and home decor, too. There, on one of the days after Christmas, I saw a marked-down set of twelve little folding boxes with cord hangers.
Nothing on the little boxes spoke to the "Twelve Days of Christmas" but that is how I thought I'd use them. I had already wrapped up twelve gifts for Jonathon that year – storybooks I had purchased at second-hand stores, small Legos and other construction sets – and although I had time, I would rather not spend it wrapping. Besides, the little boxes would help decorate our tree. And so, with those boxes we began hanging gifts on our tree for the Twelve Days of Christmas. The next Christmas – and every year since – there would be little gifts on our tree for Jonathon to open on each of the Twelve Days.
Like a lot of men, Pat doesn't like shopping, but even he has had fun joining in the search when it comes to little gifts for the boxes. At first, the boxes for Jonathon contained miniature cars, super balls, seashells, puzzles, Legos and candy. Over the years the selection of gifts tucked inside the boxes has changed, but puzzles and legos continue to be included, favorites still. The other thing that hasn't changed is the enjoyment we have had as a family with this tradition. And now, Pat and I share a set of boxes and take turns, alternating each day as we search on the tree for our next box to open from Jonathon. "What did you get in your box today?" never fails to bring smiles all around.
At that point Mary Ellen was at a career crossroads, looking for a new focus after 25 years of long days spent in administrative management. Jonathon had completed his Masters in fine art and was back working long hours for other entrepreneurs' startups with little spare time for sculpting projects. The solution? Working even longer in our own business, of course! Still, if Twelve Days was ever to become a reality, now was the time to start. Jonathon generously offered to work on Twelve Days in addition to his regular job and Twelve Days LLC was formally formed as a business partnership in 2008.
Twelve Days was forged from the hope that we could build a business of our own by pooling our creative talents and experience. Although we knew it would involve a lot of effort – which it has – it hasn't seemed so much like "work" because we were working in tandem on a project that was personally meaningful and that we believed could bring others special memories like those we ourselves treasured at Christmas.
Our Twelve Days of Christmas gift box sets are our own unique designs. We researched and wrote the 40-page booklet that comes in the sets. We pored over favorite artists' works to select illustrations. Jonathon added his own drawings of the boxes. We wrangled over the page layouts, sometimes deliberating over single words to make the design pleasing and still express what we wanted to convey. We wanted everything to be perfect! It has been a similar labor of love working on our website.
Like in any good partnership, we both had a hand in shaping the final products. Of course, depending on the challenge, one or the other of us took the lead. In that regard, the box designs, booklet layout and website design are principally credited to Jonathon and the booklet content to Mary Ellen.
Looking back beyond the work sessions, having the opportunity to work together on this project involving personal, creative expression in this way was truly a gift in itself.