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Keeping Christmas spirit glowing through the Twelve Days and beyond

Every year around Dec. 25, panic sets in. You've been too busy to enjoy Christmas. You fear the season has passed you by.

Fear not, as the angel said. In fact, the season is doing nothing of the sort.

Technically, Dec. 25 is the first day of Christmas. Not the twelfth day, as some mistakenly believe.

"But I'm sick of Christmas!" you might wail. But if you face those feelings, you'll probably see it's not Christmas you're sick of. You're sick of the stress.

Who wouldn't be? For about a month, there have been dozens of holiday events every weekend. Shopping has been impossible. Traffic has been nuts. No one is saying we would want this stress to continue past Dec. 25, into the season traditionally known as Christmastide.

So here's what you do: Take the coming days as a time to relax, celebrate and enjoy.

Didn't get a chance to send out Christmas cards? Send them now, at your leisure. Not only are you perfectly correct to do so, but you can enjoy the process instead of rushing and cursing your way through it -- plus, no lines at the post office.

Go around to different churches and admire their Nativity scenes. Reflect on the sacred mysteries of the season.

That ambitious baking project you dreamed of tackling? That Yule log, that rum cake, that gingerbread model of the Richardson Complex? Get out those mixing bowls. You have time.

Keep your lights up. January shouldn't be dull and dreary. Throw that Christmas party you regret that you didn't get around to. Go out with friends for holiday cheer.

And just go out. Not because you have to, just for the joy. Here are some happenings, sacred and secular, to keep the holiday spirit glowing.

Missed "The Nutcracker"? No, you didn't. The National Ballet of Canada's "Nutcracker" continues in Toronto until Dec. 30. It's fun to see Toronto in the Christmas season. Catch "The Nutcracker" at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ont. Info at national.ballet.ca.

Not only should you not kick your tree to the curb on Dec. 26, you should continue to decorate your home. Find inspiration - and perhaps a poinsettia to take home -- through Jan. 7 at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, where the annual Poinsettia Show continues until Jan. 7, along with the fanciful railway exhibit. It's $1 admission day on Dec. 28. The Botanical Gardens are located at 2655 South Park Ave. 827-1584.

At 8 p.m. on the Second Day of Christmas, Dec. 26, Helium Comedy Club celebrates Home for the Holidays. Some of our favorite Buffalo expat comedians return, and this is your chance to connect. With Shaun Murphy as emcee, the show features Dan Fisher, Brian Herberger, Nora Hurley, Josh Potter, Jon Schuta, Kevin Michael Smith, Julia Solomon, Luke Touma, and Matt Wayne. For ages 18 and over, $15. 853-1211.

Why stay home Dec. 28, when, at 6:30 p.m., the Polish Cadets are holding their Christmas Party? It features a Polish buffet and beverages, plus a cash bar. The Polish Cadets occupy a historic building at 927 Grant St., and we bet it is really into the Christmas spirit. The party is free to members and delegates, and $10 for non-members. For info, call 875-3211.

Part of the shrine's nativity scene shows a camel and an angel for the Festival of Lights in Youngstown. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

At 7 p.m. Dec. 29, Our Lady of Fatima Shrine (1023 Swann Road, Youngstown) hosts a Christmas concert by the Voices of Mercy, from St. Luke's Mission of Mercy. This concert is an annual tradition and is a perfect excuse to marvel at the shrine's extensive and impressive Festival of Lights, which continues from 5 to 9 nightly until Jan. 6. Admission is free. 754-7489.

The historic creche in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, crafted in Naples in the 18th century, stays up until Dec. 30.  It is a nationally renowned rarity. Three of its kind are known to exist, and the other two are in the White House and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Check it out in the auditorium, along with the gallery's glorious Christmas tree. Find info at albrightknox.org.

Head to the Lancaster Opera House too see the Polish Heritage Dancers of Western New York's "Polish Christmas in the Village." Performances are at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 30. This program is adapted from the book “A Polish Christmas Eve,” by Rev. Czeslaw Krysa, and explores and explains Polish Christmas traditions. Traditional Polish carols will be sung (and all are invited to sing along). $15 Adult; $13 Senior; $10 Student. For info, call 983-5084.

"Amahl and the Night Visitors" is becoming an Epiphany tradition at Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Celebrate Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings, when Westminster Presbyterian Church presents "Amahl and the Night Visitors," the one-act classic by Gian Carlo Menotti, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, (724 Delaware Ave.). The production features full sets, costumes, chorus, and a chamber orchestra. Performances are at 7:30 p.m Jan. 5 and 6 and 2:30 p.m. Jan. 7. $20. For tickets or info visit wpcbuffalo.org.

Celebrate the visit of the Three Kings with a Festival of Lessons and Carols. At 3 p.m. Jan. 7, St. Stephen's Episcopal Church (616 Cayuga Drive, Niagara Falls) presents Lessons, Carols and Organ Music For Epiphany. The ceremony will be led by the Right Rev. R. William Franklin, Episcopal bishop of the diocese of Western New York. Rev. Robert Duerr, the church's pastor and an award-winning organist, will play organ. A free will offering benefits local charities. 283-2774.

On Jan. 20, at 5:30 p.m., it's all aboard for the Forgotten Buffalo Polish Christmas Tavern Tour, which takes you through historic East Side taverns to the accompaniment of caroling and general merriment. What is this, the third Polish event? Truth is, there are a lot of Polish folks here in Buffalo, they're organized -- and they know tradition, which states that the Christmas season lasts until Candlemas in early February. Forgotten Buffalo's Polish Christmas Tavern Tour is so popular that all of them in December sold out. This gives you one more chance to get in on the fun. Reservations are required. Visit forgottenbuffalo.com.

Through Jan. 31, the Niagara Falls, Ont., the Winter Festival of Lights continues to trace a trail throughout Victoria Park, Dufferin Islands and various other tourist areas. The festival boasts the world’s largest Canadian-American Flag as well as Noah's Ark, the illumination of the Skylon Tower, and more than 50 trees in Dufferin Islands wrapped with lights. Free, with donations accepted.

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