On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a song I can’t get out of my head.
On the internet today is a chain mail article saying the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” is a coded song meant to represent twelve concepts from scripture and the early church. Snopes.com got this one right when they debunked this association. Sure, there are twelve ideas we can identify in Christianity with varying numbers associated, and Christians have God hanging on a tree, but this is not what this song is about.
So what’s the big deal about the twelve days of Christmas?
The song itself came out in the 1700s, and there have been many variations of its verses. Some think it was a song meant to be a game of memory where recitation got you prizes and a lapse in memory could have you paying a kiss to your neighbor or some other predetermined consequence. But the gifts mentioned in the song don’t really have anything to do with the Twelve Days of Christmas.
The story goes like this:
Jesus was born on Christmas Day (whatever day of the year it was, it was Christmas). He was born in a stable, wrapped in swaddling cloths (like a newborn Passover lamb), and placed in a feed trough. The manger scenes we see today have Mary and Joseph and Jesus (with a halo) and an angel (with wings) and the shepherds from the fields outside Bethlehem. But this is where the quasi-historically accurate depiction ends.
Most manger scenes I’ve seen come with a set of wise men visiting the newborn King in the manger, but that’s not what the Bible records.
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
Did you notice where they went to visit the Messiah? A house!!
The twelve days of Christmas begin at Christmas Day with the birth of Jesus and end on January 6 with the visit of the wise men. It is said that the star appeared when Jesus was born, and it took the Magi 12 days to arrive in Bethlehem.
The night before the 6th is considered the “Twelfth Night”, which was made famous by Shakespeare. On that night, some cultures hold a great feast complete with a king cake iced with yellow, purple and green icing to represent the gifts of the wise men. This cake is more commonly used in Madrid Gras in the US.
Some cultures begin with one present on Christmas Day and give one present each day until the 6th of January, celebrating the whole Christmas season encompassed in the stories within Matthew and Luke.
In our culture, we usually focus more on the days leading up to Christmas than the days after Christmas. By the day after Christmas, we’re exhausted.
For those of you who feel guilty every year because you don’t take down your Christmas decorations until after New Year’s Day, leave them up until January 6 and remember the coming of the wise men. If you have a Nativity Scene, maybe leave the wise men out and add them on January 6th for a week or so.
There are many ways we can have fun with all the stories and traditions surrounding Christmas. But what is most important is that we don’t forget to celebrate the Joy that comes because God became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Merry Christmas, and may your True Love (Jehovah) bring you hope through Jesus this season.