While most of us celebrate January 1st as the New Year, according to the Catholic Church calendar it’s still Christmas! The Twelve Days of Christmas is the period between December 25th, Christmas Day and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 5th or 6th.
Just about everyone knows the song, the Twelve Days of Christmas. If not, the first stanza should spark your memory, ”On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.” Although Catholics link the song to a clever way to teach Catholicism when Puritans banned the English from celebrating Christmas and the Catholic faith back in the 16th century, such claims are speculative due to lack of evidence. However faith is typically used as an anchor to deduce that the possibility does indeed exist. Researchers have actually traced the genesis of the song regardless of one’s belief about the reason behind its origin.
The song first appeared in Mirth without Mischief, a book published in England in the year 1780. Daft Days where the King of Fools reigned was part of the Christmas and pagan winter solstice celebrations in medieval England. Pranks and causing mischief were common. The tune to the song believed to date back to France. Turns out the song, filled with verses that appear random, was a ”memory and forfeits” game for children in the 18th century. A very old version of ”I went to the market and bought…” played today to help children develop memory and concentration. This game became popular to play during parties on the 12th night of Christmas.
Today, the lack of celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas really does speak to the secularization of Christmas. Advent is better known and more celebrated as the build up to Christmas Day. It is the time of preparation to celebrate the coming birth of Jesus. But even Advent calendars are more about receiving than giving. Perhaps the reason for the complete Christmas season has been lost in the commercialization of Christmas. In accordance to the liturgical year, the Twelve Days of Christmas is the period after the birth of Jesus and a part of the Christmas celebration. At one time, over these 12 days people celebrated with merriment, spent time with family, gave charity to the poor and prepared to celebrate the life of Jesus here on earth. It just seems these days as Christmas is marketed earlier and earlier (before Halloween!), it’s easy to feel Christmas ends the morning presents are opened.
One tradition my son makes sure we don’t forget takes place on Christmas Eve. That’s the day we put up our Christmas tree, watch old Christmas movies, and tell stories about ornaments as they are hung with care. I guess in our own way, that’s how we celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas that begins on Christmas Eve. No one is able to run away from the commercialism of Christmas, and our family certainly participates in the shopping frenzy. But traditions are reminders of why we do the things we do. As long as these traditions continue we will remember.
Happy New Year to all! Wishing you joy, peace, and happiness in 2014!