Did you know that the twelve days of Christmas are not a ‘count-down’, but actually a ‘count-up’? That may be obvious to you, but you might be interested to know the story of the song and how tradition and Christmas overlap.
I first heard about the origin of the 12 days of Christmas from my Anglican priest friend Jamie Howison. The 12 days in the song are the 12 days between Christmas or boxing day (celebrated as the feast of St. Stephen) and January 6 (celebrated as the feast of the Epiphany).
Wikipedia says that the original rhyme or chant began as a game, where it would be recited and people would take turns on each verse, until someone made a mistake – at which point they would have to pay some kind of penalty or gift (like a kiss… or a chocolate). Who knows if people made it more interesting back in the day…
Whatever the case may be, there are those 12 days between the celebration of Christmas and the celebration of the Epiphany in the Christian church calendar. So really if you think about it, Christmas eve or Christmas day is the beginning of yet another count-down or ‘count-up’ which leads us to Epiphany.
And in case you are wondering, the observance of Epiphany (January 6) is known as a celebration of the Incarnation (God becoming flesh in the person of Christ). It commemorates His birth and is also a general celebration of the visit of the Wise Men, Jesus childhood events, His baptism and even the miracle at the Wedding of Cana (another well-known celebration of its’ own).
My son has been busy counting down to the days to when our family leaves for our Christmas vacation back home. Of course, he is counting down to Christmas day too. And it’s advent after all, so it’s all about hope and anticipation of celebration, family time, relationships (yes – presents too), and most importantly the birth of Christ. But here we find yet another feast to look forward to.
Having said all that, if I may suggest – enjoy the count-down to Christmas. But when Christmas has ended and maybe after a bit of reflection and rest, remember that the anticipation and celebration continues – for at least 12 more days, according to the song, and also according to the Christian church calendar!