While most celebrate January 1st as the New Year, according to the Catholic Church calendar it’s still Christmas!
The Twelve Days of Christmas starts on December 26th, the day after Christmas Day and ends on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany. But some celebrate from December 25th, so the Twelfth Night is January 5th, the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany.
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.” Some Catholics claim the song was a clever way to teach Catholicism when Puritans banned the English from celebrating Christmas and the Catholic faith back in the 16th century. 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 is 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, the time of preparation to celebrate the coming birth of Jesus, is better known and more celebrated than the days following Christmas. But even Advent calendars are more about receiving than giving. Perhaps the reason for the complete Christmas season, December 26-January 6, has been lost in the commercialization of Christmas. In accordance to the liturgical year, the twelve days of after the birth of Jesus is still 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 Christmas. 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!