The Twelfth Day of Christmas

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My “partridge in a pear tree” from last year.  Big difference in the weather!

Will you still be celebrating Christmas this Saturday?  January 6 is the Feast of Epiphany (Revelation), or the Twelfth Day of Christmas.  It marks the supposed number of days the Magi, or wise men, traveled to see the Christ child in Bethlehem.

Always noted by calendar printers, it never got my attention or a connection with the popular song we’ve sung for ages.  Last year, I thought I’d be cute and hang a partridge ornament in our pear tree in the front yard.  But the tradition and its meaning go way beyond that.

While Advent is celebrated on the four Sundays before Christmas, the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on December 25.  The Feast of St. Stephen is the next day, commemorating the first martyr and generosity to the needy.  The Feast of St. John is on the December 27, for the fact that “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”  Holy Innocents are remembered on December 28th: the children Herod killed to prevent another king from usurping his power.

The final Day of Christmas, though, is the sixth of January.  It completes a dozen days of reflection on “what the Incarnation means in our lives – the most momentous event in human history – the entry of God into the world He made.”

The song everybody knows started off in a 1780 book called Mirth Without Merriment.  It was set to music in 1909 by Frederic Austin.  Does it surprise you that some say it is a mnemonic device, an educational tool?

1 – Jesus

2 – Old Testament and New Testament

3 – Faith, Hope, Love

4 – Gospels

5 – First five books of the Old Testament

6 – Days of Creation

7 – Gifts of the Holy Spirit

8 – Beatitudes

9 – Fruits of the Spirit

10 – Commandments

11 – Faithful Apostles

12 – Points of the Apostles’ Creed

I used to have a Math lesson in which we totaled the number of gifts given in the song (364).  Someone has looked into how much they’d cost in today’s market (over $34,000  – I guess swans are really high this time of year).

In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the wise fool  understood the real meaning of life.  Christ turned the whole world upside-down.  On the last day of Christmas, may we all try to do the same.  And all year through.

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A Gift for All

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I have always liked to make things, and used to spend a lot of time trying to decide which homemade Christmas gifts to give; it was a necessity when dollars were scarce and our family was young.

I made nightgowns, counted cross stitch samplers, pillows, candy, lighted Ball jars, cookie mix, cocoa mix, coffee mix….  One year in college I made dolls from dishwashing soap bottles and material scraps.

Today it seems the homemade gifts I wrap come from craft shows, and I have faint dreams of copying them for another time.  This year I melted and molded soaps, which was fun and took a minimum amount of time for the way they turned out.

Whether a gift is homemade or store bought, edible or wearable, small or large, it can’t match the greatest gift in the form of a baby who grew up to be a man who would save us all.  It probably wasn’t in December or exactly 2016 years ago.  But it was a terrible sacrifice of the Giver, the gift above all others.  Merry Christmas.