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12 Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas-not a countdown.
-Cecelia Reynolds

The feast of Christmas is more than just a one-day celebration. The Incarnation of Our Lord merits more! Today, people mistakenly think the 12 days of Christmas refer to a countdown from December 12th to Christmas Eve, something tied to the number of shopping days. Those who “keep Christmas” as Dickens phrased it in A Christmas Carol, know this is not what Christmas is about. The Christmas season is from December 25th until Epiphany (the coming of the Wise Men) on January 6th.
Because the Church does nothing haphazardly, the Twelve Days of Christmas include the Octave of Christmas (8 days) and a myriad of special feasts! Christmas is a time for celebrating the arrival of the long-awaited Savior, and the importance of this feast requires 12 days to fully grasp the gift mankind received in the lowly stable.
Some of the Saint days and Feasts included in the octave are:
December 26th- St. Stephen. The first martyr and a deacon. In the song “Good King Wenceslaus,” the Christlike king ventures out on St. Stephen’s Day to help a poor, cold beggar, embodying the Christmas spirit of love and charity.
December 27th-St. John the Evangelist. The Apostle who stayed at the cross until the very end is honored with a feast day during the Christmas Season, just two days after the birth of Jesus.
December 28th-The feast of the Holy Innocents. This commemorates the children who were killed by Herod in his frenzied search for the newborn king. Tradition has it that the cries of the mothers could be heard by all.
December 29th-the Feast of the Holy Family. The model of the family for everyone, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Joseph and Mary were always ready to obey God without question or hesitation. They are an example of putting God and Jesus at the center of the family.
January 1st-the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This is a Holy Day of Obligation celebrating the motherhood of the Virgin Mary, called Theotokos in the Eastern tradition. Mary shows all the pinnacle of unconditional love and complete humility.
The last night of the Christmas season, January 5th, is referred to as Twelfth Night. Traditionally on that night much merriment and games occurred. Servants would trade places with their lords and ladies, masquerade parties and pranks would abound. Shakespeare’s play of the same name forever captured the feel of the evening as the most special season of the year came to a close.
The famous English carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” has a unique legend behind it. Since it was illegal to be Catholic in England from mid-16th century to the early 19th century, the song was created to teach basic tenets of the faith, or so the legend claims. That would make more sense than receiving such a menagerie of presents, from anyone, let alone their true love. Here is what the seemingly unrelated bizarre gifts represented:
Partridge in a pear tree-Jesus. The mother partridge willingly puts herself in danger to lure predators away from her babies, just Jesus accepted mankind’s sins.
2 Turtle Doves-The Old and New Testament
3 French Hens-Three cardinal virtues: faith, hope, and charity. According to St. Paul, these virtues will last forever.
4 Calling Birds-the four Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
5 Gold Rings-the first 5 books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch
6 Geese a laying-the 6 days in which God made the world, the Creation Story
7 Swans a swimming-the seven Sacraments
8 Maids a milking-the Beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing-the Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords a Leaping-the 10 Commandments
11 Pipers piping-the 11 Apostles who remained loyal to Jesus after Judas betrayed him
12 Drummers drumming-the 12 points of the faith told in the Apostle’s Creed

Whether that is the origin of the carol or not, it is still a touching way to approach the song and a great way to remember details of the Faith. Ultimately, the important thing to keep in mind is that Christmas is a Season, not just a day. This blessed season is meant to be celebrated for twelve days, praising God all the while, made easier with the feasts and celebrations during that time.

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