What are the Twelve Days of Christmas?

Before we investigate the origins, the meaning and the traditions surrounding the Twelve Days of Christmas, let me dispel a common misconception in that when we speak of the "Twelve Days of Christmas", we should refer to the 12 days or nights that FOLLOW Christmas not lead up to Christmas.

The Twelve Days of Christmas or the Twelve Nights of Christmas, whichever you fancy, begin on the evening of December 25th or the day of December 26 th. From there, they continue and conclude on Twelfth Night (the evening of January 5th) or on the day of January 6th. This day marks the Epiphany and represents the arrival of the three Wise Men to the manger bearing gifts for the Baby Jesus. This day is also celebrated as "Three Kings Day."

There are several traditions and customs that celebrate part or all of these twelve days. In Latin America, they celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day but save January 6th, el Dia de los Tres Reyes, as the day of exchanging gifts. Several Dutch also celebrate in this fashion. Others may give gifts on each of the twelve days. Still, eastern orthodox traditions (Russian and Greek) celebrate Christmas on January 7th followed by the Epiphany or Theophany on January 19th or when God revealed himself to us as Jesus Christ. Why January 19th? According to the Julian Calendar as originated by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C., this marks the first day of the year. Now that's a lot of celebrating.

Another interesting factoid is that Twelfth Night is celebrated by some with a feast and the removal of Christmas decorations. The French and English include a King Cake in their feast to celebrate the Three Kings or Magi. Only in the southern U.S. during Mardi Gras, is the King Cake enjoyed outside the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Regarding the song "Twelve Days of Christmas", it is usually thought of a children's nonsense song for the holidays. However, some historians believe that the song's origin can be traced back to the 16th century when it was taught to children as a mnemonic device for learning the various aspects of Christian faith. For example, "My True Love" refers to God and the "me" is every baptized Christian. Continuing, the "Partridge in a Pear Tree" represents the Baby Jesus whom God gave to the world on the "first day of Christmas." The second day brought "Two Turtle Doves" or the "Old" and "New" Testaments. On the third day, "Three French Hens" represent the three religious virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. "Four Calling Birds" embody Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Still, some others…"Five Golden Rings" are the first five books of the Bible known as the Torah. "Six Geese-A-Layin'" represent the 6 days of creation. "Ten Lords-A-Leapin'" are the Ten Commandments and finally "Eleven Pipers Pipin'" represent the 11 Apostles sans Judas.

What is the true meaning? I leave that up to you to decide but know this, Christmas is a time when we celebrate the Glory of God and the one gift He bestowed on us to bring forth good will and peace for all men!

Hope you enjoyed this little history lesson and that you learned something new!

The EuroTraveler continues to wish you a Happy Holiday Season on this 5th Day of Christmas!