“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.”
When most people hear “The Twelve Days of Christmas” they think of this beloved Christmas carol. But what are the 12 days of Christmas? I’ve seen some people claim the 12 days before Christmas as the 12 days of Christmas.
In the past 100 years, most people have thought of Christmas as a single day – Dec. 25. But for many centuries Christmas has been celebrated as a season of 12 days. Since 200 A.D. there has been much disagreement over when to celebrate Christ’s birth because the Bible makes no mention of the time of year when Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem.
Early in Christian history it was celebrated on May 20, April 20, March 28 and Jan. 6. By the fourth century, the Eastern church, centered around Constantinople, had settled on Jan. 6. However the western Church, centered around Rome, observed Dec. 25. In a compromise, both churches eventually agreed to combine the celebrations by making Christmas a season of 12 days in which the birth of Christ is celebrated.
The celebration culminated with the day of Epiphany, Jan. 6, when the Wise Men visited the baby Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew makes it clear that their visit was not on the day of his birth. It is possible that he was anywhere from a few days old to a few years old when the Wise Men visited.
For us today, Christmas is a time to remember that God has come to Earth to be with his people. He came as a baby over 2,000 years ago, but he also comes to us every day through his Holy Spirit. God is with us. He comes to provide comfort, guidance, and hope. He comes to bring his life into our lives.
This is the reason that we celebrate this holy season.
Sometimes the commercial aspects of Christmas obscure our true appreciation of its joy and holiness. Perhaps the 12 days of Christmas are an opportunity to recapture that joy. In those 12 days, after the secular world has finished with Christmas for another year, we can celebrate the true joy of a God who loved his people so dearly that he came to dwell among us and continues to live with us.
This is the greatest gift ever given.
I would suggest that a way to celebrate Christmas would be to give gifts on each day to those who may not feel loved – the lonely, the poor, the sick. In this way the love of God may be revealed and the joy of the 12 days of Christmas passed on.
The Rev. Sally Franklin is pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fort Mill.