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.
Information from christianitytoday.com and catholicnewsagency.com.