Today is December 13th and for many that means we can begin singing the ever-popular Twelve Days of Christmas song, right? Wrong! The Twelve Days of Christmas is probably the most misunderstood part of the church year among Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions. Contrary to popular opinion, the 13th of December (12 days before Christmas day) is not, as the song goes, the First Day of Christmas. If you already purchased the Partridge in a Pear Tree for your ‘true love,’ you are 12 maybe 13 days early! The Twelve Days of Christmas does not culminate on Christmas Day—it actually begins on Christmas Day!
The origin and counting of the Twelve Days is complicated, and is related to differences in church calendars (Eastern Church and Western Church), church traditions (Protestant and Catholic), and ways to observe the different holy days associated with the seasons of Advent Season, Christmas Season (Yes, Christmas is a season and not just a day!) and the season of Epiphany.
The 12 Days of Christmas traditionally falls between Christmas Day (for some the 25th of December and others the 26th of December) and the Season of Epiphany (another church season that begins on January 6th).
Even though December 25th is celebrated as Christmas Day, it is either January 6th as THE day for giving gifts or (as the song goes..) you are to give gifts for each of the 12 days of the Christmas Season beginning on the 25th or 26th of December! What kid wouldn’t want to celebrate Christmas for 12 days straight?!
As for the song itself, Twelve Days dates back to the 1700’s. There are some who see it as nothing more than a catchy tune about extravagant giving and a funny sing-a-long for the holidays. Still others believe that the song has a deeper meaning with implicit Christian instruction for teaching catechism to their children. That the “true love” mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself with each of the “days” representing some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn. Given that it was written during a time when Christianity was rich in theological teaching, seeing the song as a mnemonic device for teaching children about their faith, seems plausible. But truly there is not enough supporting evidence to take a hard line either way.
To learn more about The Twelve Days of Christmas and history behind the Christmas season and the song itself, click on the following link. In the meantime, check out this rendition of the song from Straight No Chaser. Enjoy…