If asked when and what are the 12 days of Christmas, most people would tell you it’s the days leading up to Christmas. When someone mentions “The 12 Days of Christmas” the song is the first thing that comes to mind. The 12 days actually lead up to Epiphany, which is January 6th.
Most western traditions count Christmas Day, which would place January 5th as the 12th Day of Christmas. In some traditions the first day of Christmas begins on the evening of December 25th with the following day (December 26) being considered the First Day of Christmas. In this case, January 6th (Epiphany) would be the 12th Day of Christmas.
Observed on January 6th, the Epiphany js a celebration of the three miracles that manifest the divinity of Christ. The name “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word Epiphania, and means “to show, make known, or reveal.” The celebration originated in the Eastern Church in AD 361 as a commemoration of the birth of Christ. Later, additional meanings were added, the visit of the three Magi, Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River, and his first miracle at the wedding in Cana.
These three events are central to the definition of Epiphany.
Legend tells us the song has a deeper meaning than the words tell us. Some say the song was written by English Jesuits in the 16th century. Each “gift” represents a tenet of the Christian faith.
My True Love = God. Each day is an aspect of the Christian faith that we should learn.
1 Patridge in a pear tree = Jesus Christ, the Son of God
2 Turtledoves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French hens = the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity
4 Calling birds = the four gospels, Matthew Mark Luke & John
5 Golden rings = the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch)
6 Geese a-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans a-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
8 Maids a-milking = the Eight Beatitudes
9 Ladies dancing = the nine fruits of the Spirit
10 Lords a-leaping = the Ten Commandments
11 Pipers piping = the 11 faithful disciples (minus Judas, who betrayed Christ)
12 Drummers drumming = the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed
Although there is no hard evidence to prove the accuracy of this, does it really matter?
It seems the commercial aspects of “winter holidays” have become more prominent and we
compact “CHRIST MASS” into one day. When I was a child, our Christmas tree didn’t get displayed until a week before Christmas, but it stayed until after the first of the year. Now, it’s not uncommon to see trees by the roadside on December 26th. (at least what few live trees we see now).
Even though December 25th is celebrated as Christmas in most cultures, January 6th is often the day for giving gifts. In some places it is traditional to give Christmas gifts for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Since Eastern Orthodox traditions use a different religious calendar, they celebrate Christmas on January 7th and observe Epiphany on January 19th. So, although most children think Santa has to visit all the children on Christmas Eve, he actually has a few more days to complete his rounds!
This year, consider keeping the decorations up a little longer. Instead of just celebrating Christmas Day, use the entire season, from Advent to Epiphany to teach your children more about our Christian faith.
Begin with an Advent calendar. Advent is a time of spiritual preparation, the anticipation of Christ.
Then, use the song as a tool to teach our children about Epiphany. Save a gift to open on January 6th. Use scriptures that explain each “gift” in the song.
Durward Blanks is a professional Santa/St.Nicholas, speaker and life/relationship coach. For more information, you can contact him at 615.543.8728 or [email protected] Facebook: The Woodlands Santa or Durward Blanks.