Twelve Days of Christmas
|12 Days of Christmas|
|Observances||varies by culture, country|
|Date||25 December–5/6 January|
|Related to||Christmas Day, Twelfth Night, Epiphany|
The Twelve Days of Christmas are the festive days beginning Christmas Day (25 December). This period is also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which Christian tradition is followed. Twelfth Night is followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. In some traditions, the first day of Epiphany (6 January) and the twelfth day of Christmas overlap.
Over the centuries, differing Christian denominations have had different customs, time frames and interpretations. St. Stephen's Day, for example, is 26 December in the Western Church and 27 December in the Eastern Church. 28 December is Childermas or the Feast of the Innocents. 26 December is also known as Boxing Day but this is not associated with St Stephen and Boxing Day does not move to the 27th in the Eastern Church. Currently, the twelve days and nights are celebrated in widely varying ways around the world. Some give gifts only on Christmas Day, some only on Twelfth Night, and some each of the twelve nights.
In Eastern Christianity (the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches), the Great Feast of Theophany (Epiphany) on 6 January is considered a higher-ranked feast than the Nativity (Christmas), and commemorates the Baptism of Jesus rather than the arrival of the Magi. The twelve days beginning on 25 December are observed as a fast-free period of celebration. The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church, however, observe the Nativity of Christ on 6 January, and thus do not have a twelve-day period between Christmas and 5 January.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, The Great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord begins on the Eve of 25 December (for those Orthodox churches which follow the Julian calendar, 25 December falls on 7 January of the modern Gregorian Calendar).
The Twelve Days of Christmas are a festive period linking together two Great Feasts of the Lord: Nativity and Theophany. During this period one celebration leads into another. The Nativity of Christ is a three-day celebration: the formal title of the first day is "The Nativity According to the Flesh of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ", and celebrates not only the Nativity of Jesus, but also the Adoration of the Shepherds of Bethlehem and the arrival of the Maji; the second day is referred to as the "Synaxis of the Theotokos", and commemorates the role of the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation; the third day is known as the "Third Day of the Nativity", and is also the feast day of the Protodeacon and Protomartyr Saint Stephen.
29 December is the Orthodox Feast of the Holy Innocents.
The Saturday following the Nativity is commemorated by special readings from the Epistle (1 Tim 6:11-16) and Gospel (Matt 12:15-21) during the Divine Liturgy. The Sunday after Nativity has its own liturgical commemoration in honour of "The Righteous Ones: Joseph the Betrothed, David the King and James the Brother of the Lord".
1 January, at the center of the festal period, is another feast of the Lord (though not ranked as a Great Feast): the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord. On this same day is the feast day of Saint Basil the Great, and so the service celebrated on that day is the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil.
2 January begins the Forefeast of the Theophany.
The Eve of the Theophany (5 January) is a day of strict fasting, on which the devout will not eat anything until the first star is seen at night. This day is known as Paramony ("preparation"), and follows the same general outline as Christmas Eve. That morning is the celebration of the Royal Hours and then the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil combined with Vespers, at the conclusion of which is celebrated the Great Blessing of Waters, in commemoration of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. There are certain parallels between the hymns chanted on Paramony and those of Good Friday, to show that, according to Orthodox theology, the steps that Jesus took into the Jordan River were the first steps on the way to the Cross. That night the All-Night Vigil is served for the Feast of the Theophany.
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The first day of Christmas is Christmas Day and each day is a feast in memory of a Saint or event associated with the Christmas season. The days are as follows:
- Day 1, 25 December: Christmas Day.
- Day 2, 26 December: St. Stephen's Day. This day is mentioned in the carol "Good King Wenceslas". Boxing Day, a non-religious banking holiday occurs on the first day following Christmas. In Ireland this day is also known as Wren Day.
- Day 3, 27 December: Feast of saint John the Evangelist and Apostle.
- Day 4, 28 December: The Feast of the Holy Innocents, the young male children ordered murdered in Bethlehem by King Herod, according to the Gospel of Matthew. The traditional Christmas song "The Coventry Carol" describes this event.
- Day 5, 29 December: The feast day of Saint Thomas Becket.
- Day 6, 30 December: The feast of the Holy Family.
- Day 7, 31 December: The feast of Saint Sylvester. In Scotland this day is known as Hogmanay. In Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland and Slovenia, New Years Eve is still referred to as Silvester.
- Day 8, 1 January: The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Before the Second Vatican Council, it was also observed as the Feast of the Holy Circumcision of Jesus.
- Day 9, 2 January: Octave day of St. Stephen or the feast day of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen. In England, the Lichfield Martyrs are also celebrated on this day.
- Day 10, 3 January: Feast of Saint Genevieve or the most holy name of Jesus.
- Day 11, 4 January: The octave day of the feast of the Holy Innocents or the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint. In medieval times this was The feast of Saint Simon Stylites.
- Day 12, 5 January: In the UK this was the Feast of St. Edward the Confessor, King of England. The rest of Europe feasted St. Julian the Hospitaller on this day. The modern church recognizes this as the feast day of St. John Neumann. The evening of the 5 January is also Twelfth Night.
In England in the Middle Ages, this period was one of continuous feasting and merrymaking, which climaxed on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season. In Tudor England, Twelfth Night itself was forever solidified in popular culture when William Shakespeare used it as the setting for one of his most famous stage plays, titled Twelfth Night. Often a Lord of Misrule was chosen to lead the Christmas revels.
Some of these traditions were adapted from the older pagan customs, including the Roman Saturnalia and the Germanic Yuletide. Some also have an echo in modern day pantomime where traditionally authority is mocked and the principal male lead is played by a woman, while the leading older female character, or 'Dame', is played by a man.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2008)|
The early North American colonists brought their version of the Twelve Days over from England, and adapted them to their new country, adding their own variations over the years. For example, the modern-day Christmas wreath may have originated with these colonials. A homemade wreath would be fashioned from local greenery and fruits, if available, were added. Making the wreaths was one of the traditions of Christmas Eve; they would remain hung on each home's front door beginning on Christmas Night (1st night of Christmas) through Twelfth Night or Epiphany morning. As was already the tradition in their native England, all decorations would be taken down by Epiphany morning and the remainder of the edibles would be consumed. A special cake, the king cake, was also baked then for Epiphany.
Modern Western customs
United Kingdom and Commonwealth
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2008)|
Many in the UK and other Commonwealth nations still celebrate some aspects of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Boxing Day (26 December) is a national holiday in many Commonwealth nations, being the first full day of Christmas. Victorian era stories by Charles Dickens (and others), particularly A Christmas Carol, hold key elements of the celebrations such as the consumption of plum pudding, roasted goose and wassail. These foods are consumed more at the beginning of the Twelve Days in the UK.
Twelfth Night is the last day for decorations to be taken down, and it is held to be bad luck to leave decorations up after this. This is in contrast to the custom in Elizabethan England, when decorations were left up until Candlemas; this is still done in some other Western European countries such as Germany.
The traditions of the Twelve Days of Christmas have been largely forgotten in the United States. Contributing factors include the popularity of stories by Charles Dickens in nineteenth-century America (with their emphasis on generous gift-giving), introduction of more secular traditions over the past two centuries (such as the American Santa Claus), and the rise in popularity of New Year's Eve parties. The first day of Christmas actually terminates the Christmas marketing season for merchants, as shown by the number of "after-Christmas sales" that launch on 26 December. The commercial calendar has encouraged an erroneous assumption that the Twelve Days end on Christmas Day and must therefore begin on 14 December.
Many Christians still celebrate the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas according to their traditions. Represented well among these are Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Episcopalians, Anglo-Catholics, Lutherans, many Presbyterians and Methodists, Moravians, and many individuals in Amish and Mennonite communities.
Celebrants observing the Twelve Days may give gifts on each of them, with each day of the Twelve Days representing a wish for a corresponding month of the new year. They feast and otherwise celebrate the entire time through Epiphany morning. Lighting a candle for each day has become a modern tradition in the U.S. and of course singing the appropriate verses of the famous song each day is also an important and fun part of the American celebrations. Some also light a Yule Log on the first night (Christmas) and let it burn some each of the twelve nights. Some Americans have their own traditional foods to serve each night.
For some, Twelfth Night remains the biggest night for parties and gift-giving. Some households exchange gifts on the first (25 December) and last (5 January) days of the season. As in olden days, Twelfth Night to Epiphany morning is then the traditional time to take down the Christmas tree and decorations.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Christmastide.|
- "The Twelve Days of Christmas".
- "The Customs of Christmastide: The Twelve Days of Christmas". Holy Trinity (German) Catholic Church.
- Frazer, James (1922). The Golden Bough. New York: McMillan. ISBN 1-58734-083-6. Bartleby.com
- Count, Earl (1997). 4,000 Years of Christmas. Ulysses Press. ISBN 1-56975-087-4.
- New York Times, 27 December 1852: a report of holiday events mentions 'a splendid wreath' as being among the prizes won.
- In 1953 a correspondence in the letter pages of The Times discussed whether Christmas wreaths were an alien importation or a version of the native evergreen 'bunch'/'bough'/'garland'/'wassail bush' traditionally displayed in England at Christmas. One correspondent described those she had seen placed on doors in country districts as either a plain bunch, a shape like a torque or open circle, and occasionally a more elaborate shape like a bell or interlaced circles. She felt the use of the words 'Christmas wreath' had 'funereal associations' for English people who would prefer to describe it as a 'garland'. An advertisement in The Times of Friday, 26 December 1862; pg. 1; Issue 24439; col A, however, refers to an entertainment at Crystal Palace featuring 'Extraordinary decorations, wreaths of evergreens ...', and in 1896 the special Christmas edition of The Girl's Own Paper was titled 'Our Christmas Wreath':The Times Saturday, 19 Dec 1896; pg. 4; Issue 35078; col C. There is though a custom of decorating graves at Christmas with somber wreaths of evergreen, which is still observed in parts of England, and this may have militated against the circle being the accepted shape for door decorations until the re-establishment of the tradition from America in the mid-to-late 20th century.
- Jami Delgado, ehow.com ("Consider being non-traditional and celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas on the days leading up to Christmas (14 December-25 December)."
- HumorMatters.com Twelve Days of Christmas (reprint of a magazine article). Retrieved 3 January 2011.
- "Christmas". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22 December 2005. Primarily subhead Popular Merrymaking under Liturgy and Custom.
- "The Twelve Days of Christmas". Catholic Culture. Retrieved 22 January 2012. Primarily subhead 12 Days of Christmas under Catholic and Culture.
- Bowler, Gerald (2000). The World Encyclopedia of Christmas. Toronto: M&S. ISBN 978-0-7710-1531-1. OCLC 44154451.
- Caulkins, Mary; Jennie Miller Helderman (2002). Christmas Trivia: 200 Fun & Fascinating Facts About Christmas. New York: Gramercy. ISBN 978-0-517-22070-2. OCLC 49627774.
- Collins, Ace; Clint Hansen (2003). Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. ISBN 978-0-310-24880-4. OCLC 52311813.
- Evans, Martin Marix (2002). The Twelve Days of Christmas. White Plains, New York: Peter Pauper Press. ISBN 978-0-88088-776-2. OCLC 57044650.
- Wells, Robin Headlam (2005). Shakespeare's Humanism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-82438-5. OCLC 62132881.
- Hoh, John L., Jr. (2001). The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Carol Catechism. Vancouver: Suite 101 eBooks.