Many people probably think the twelve days of Christmas start before December 25th, since what was once a religious holiday has evolved into an over-the-top commercial one; but in Western Christian Churches the twelve days of Christmas actually run from December 25th until January 5th. It is then followed by The Epiphany on January 6th. Some Christian traditions count the evening of December 25th and the day of December 26th as the First Day of Christmas and include The Epiphany -- a day remembering that Three Wise Men, or Magi, arrived, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Christ child. Traditionally, there are three Magi, as the Bible names three gifts, but did you know that the narrative never mentions how many Wise Men came? Also, many of us know the names of the Magi [Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar], but that's not mentioned in Scripture either.
Although December 25th is celebrated as Christmas in the West, some countries wait until January 6th to exchange gifts. Shakespeare's “Twelfth Night” is January 5th, the last day of the Christmas season before the celebration of the Epiphany. In some cultures, it is the custom to give Christmas gifts for each day of Christmas. And out of this practice, we have a well-known song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
The origins of the song are equally fascinating … and controversial. Some historians suggest "The Twelve Days Of Christmas" began as a song of Christian instruction during England's Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, with hidden references to the Catholic faith. But other historians disagree, claiming the song was simply a fun parlor game of secular origins. Because there's no unshakable proof either way, we'll have to wait for scholars to establish the song's true origins with more certainty.
Here 's the Religious Symbolism cited in "The Twelve Days Of Christmas":
2 Turtle Doves refers to the Old and New Testaments
4 Calling Birds refers to the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-Laying refers to the six days of creation
7 Swans A-Swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the sacraments
8 Maids A-Milking refers to the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing refers to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-Leaping refers to the Ten Commandments
11 Pipers Piping refers to the eleven faithful apostles [minus Judas]
12 Drummers Drumming refers to the points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed [source: carols.org.uk]
Clearly, it's a spirited Christmas song, fun to sing in a big group, regardless of orgins. I hope you're enjoying the holidays. But, don't take down those decorations yet. There are still eight more days of Christmas to go!
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