On the "Twelfth Day of Christmas, My true love gave to me..." and of course YOU know the rest of the song, and all those catchy lyrics - but do you know that there really are twelve days of Christmas? The lyrics do have religious significance*, but John Denver and the Muppets are quite pleased to sing their version of that song for you here! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDBMzGq1vhs
I love having twelve days of Christmas, which is why I'm mailing the rest of my Christmas cards tomorrow!
You see, before Christmas became a time of hurried shopping, expensive gift giving, stress filled decorating and commercial mega advertising, it really did last twelve days. Imagine! Twelve days of merrymaking, wassailing, letting go, laying back.. hugging, going from house to house and sharing stories, little treats, but mostly the blessings of friends and family. Imagine the hope of the sun returning - the Light of the World, the birth of the Christ, the Yule log to get us thru the long winters night, but mostly, the turning out of the old, the welcoming of the new, and the gifts of the Magi.
In early Christiandom, the tradition of the birth of Christ was assigned to December 25th, to interrupt (but obviously not replace) the celebration of the Winter Solstice, which is the 21st or so. The days had been getting progressively shorter since June 21, and in the Northern Hemisphere, all the folks living at higher latitudes were getting pretty sick of the shortening days, and a little scared that darkness would surround them and never end. So! what humans do, when faced with such dilemmas, is invent a solution. If we drank enough stong spirit and danced around a fire, and kept that flame alive, surely we could scare away the night and the light would return. By the 25th, even with crude measuring devices, early astronomers determined that the days were lengthing and the sun would eventually rise higher in the sky. What could be more hopeful than the celebration of the birth of a child, especially the Saviour, Christ the Lord! The Christchild became the metaphor for the returning Light. In about the fifth century someone conveniently realized that there were already a few other religious feasts that fell about the same time, and if incorporated into this time of festivity, would give Christians something to concentrate on, a reason for dancing and wassailing, and it could go on for twelve days!
In our family, we open our gifts on Christmas morning, and I am never in a hurry to take everything down and put it away. Trying to avoid the hype and hurriedness of Christmas, we try to give gifts of the heart. We try to give handmade gifts when possible, and waste free gifts, like experiences, when we can.
|Granddaugher Ania enjoying opening presents on Christmas morning|
While advent, which begins on the 4th Sunday before December 25th marks the beginning of the religious observance of the coming of the birth of Christ, the actual celebration of Christmas, traditionally did not begin until December 25th. Although the Christmas season now begins in August in the United States due to the need of retailers to fill their balance sheets with black ink, there are those of us who hold out with a more traditional viewpoint. I actually saw an automobile heading down the freeway on December 23rd with a Christmas tree on it's roof! Imagine, not setting the tree up until Christmas eve, and leaving it until the 6th of January! Oh, yes...January 6th marks the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the arrival of the three kings, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myhrr. This is the day after the "twelfth night" and there are families in Christiandom who still celebrate that evening with a final gift, followed by the cleaning of the home and stowing of decorations on January 6. http://www.holytrinitygerman.org/xmascustoms.html#twelvedays.
Gifts? I wouldn't mind another present on January 6th. Gold, of course would be my favorite, but a little frankincense and myhrr to add to the cupboard wouldn't be bad, either. These gifts were brought to the Christchild because gold is symbolic of the richness of the coming establishment of Christ the King, and the value of the resins which were used for incense, medicinals and embalming herbs, were to send this child in good stead into his future.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gift_of_the_Magi.
Since those guys had to travel so far across the desert, only able to walk at night as they were following that star, it's no wonder it took them 12 days!
|Folk art nativity carved by Fred Reed.|
Given the time, effort and energy that goes into preparing for this wonderful season, the welcoming of Peace, the return of the Light, the loving and festive times spent with friends and family, I for one am happy for it to last twelve days! So, if anyone is concerned my cards haven't been postmarked until December 27, they just must not know it is really the 2nd day of Christmas! Perhaps instead of a card we should send 2 calling birds!