Okay y’all, hang on to your britches. I have some news. Despite what many retail outlets will have you believe, the Twelve Days of Christmas do not occur in the twelve days before Christmas, but in the twelve days following.
And these twelve days, well they are the actual Christmas Season as originally dedicated on the Christian Year Calendar. What comes before Christmas Day is the season of Advent, not Christmas.
Christmas runs from Christmas Day until January 5, which is also called Twelfth Night. January 6, is called Epiphany.
Epiphany is the day in which the arrival of the Magi (or Wise Men) is celebrated.. Their arrival marked the moment that Christ’s identity as the Son of God was revealed to non-Jewish persons, ergo it was a pretty big “epiphany”.
Back in the olden days of yore Christmas trees were not put up until Christmas Eve because the Christmas season did not begin until December 25.
The following twelve days leading to Epiphany, were then the time for all the merry making and party throwing and frolicking about in fancy clothes.
A large Twelfth Night party was often the end of the season, sometimes even with a reversal of rolls – the servants of the wealthy would be served by their employers and all would celebrate together. January 6 was then the day when the tree came down and the decorations went back into storage – a tradition many (including our family) still hold on to.
Here are a few of my favorite ideas on how to celebrate this season in modern times!
Learn the Alternative Meanings for the Song
I have always loved the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song.
All those ladies in their party frocks dancing. A funny partridge in a funny pear tree (do partridges even like pears?). But I had no idea what any of it meant -if it meant anything at all.
A few years ago I stumbled across a children’s book that paired the twelve verses with twelve basics of Christianity. After digging around I learned that some people believe that the Twelve Days of Christmas was a way to teach children their religious catechism through symbolism and song.
Whether or not this story is true ancient history or modern folklore, the fact remains that you can easily pair each verse of this traditional Christmas tune with the most basic and fundamental Christian teachings, which can be a fun instructional tool for old and young alike.
The pairings go like this:
- A partridge in a pear tree: Jesus
- Two turtle doves: The Old and New Testaments
- Three French hens: Faith, hope, and love
- Four calling birds: The Four Gospels
- Five gold rings: The Torah/Pentateuch, first five books of the Old Testament
- Six geese a-laying: The six days of Creation
- Seven swans a-swimming: Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
- Eight maids a-milking: Eight Beatitudes
- Nine ladies dancing: Nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
- Ten lords a-leaping: The Ten Commandments
- Eleven pipers piping: The eleven faithful apostles
- Twelve drummers drumming: Twelve points of the Apostles Creed
If you want, see if each day you and your family can memorize the symbol and it’s meaning for each day, building as the week goes on.
If your family is of the competitive nature, you might even offer a prize for the person who can recite the song AND the meanings perfectly on Epiphany.
Throw a Twelfth Night Party
I love Twelfth Night and Epiphany so much that I even have a Pinterest Board dedicated to this celebration. The main ingredients needed for Twelfth Night Party are: Cake, Wassail, and Crowns for the party goers. Here is a simple how-to post on throwing your own celebration.
Collect Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies
Growing up my mother had a collection of these very same 12 Days of Christmas Drinking Glasses (you can find these on Etsy) and over the past few years I have started collecting them as well.
I have been obsessed with these appetizer plates for years. There are also table cloths, ornaments, books, and a whole host of decor items in the twelve-days theme.
Do an Unconventional Countdown
Now, I know that a lot of people neither can nor want to continue the Christmas partying after the big day itself, but a lot of people – especially kids – are home during the bulk of the twelve days.
If you are looking for a fun way to observe the 12 Days, but want something a little more unconventional and something that will help give a little bit of shape and purpose to your holiday break, I have made up a non-Christmasy themed 12 Days of Christmas Activity Printable just for you!
Simply print this out, stick on your refrigerator, and each day, beginning on either December 25 or 26 follow the activity prompts as listed. Who knows, following this list might even become a tradition for how to usher in the new year.