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Monday, December 26, 2016

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Every year, usually in early November, if not before, the "Christmas season" begins. The streets are hung with lights, the stores are decorated in red and green, and you can't turn on the radio without hearing songs about the spirit of the season and the glories of Santa Claus. The excitement builds to a climax on the morning of December 25, and then it stops, abruptly. Christmas is over, the New Year begins, and people go back to their normal lives.  And as most of the world sighs with a breath of relief, perhaps, that the hustle and bustle of it all is now over, for traditional Christians the celebration of Christmas is exactly the opposite.

For traditional Christians, the season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and for nearly a month Christians await the coming of Christ in a spirit of expectation, singing hymns of longing. Then, on December 25, Christmas Day itself ushers in 12 days of celebration, ending only on January 6 with the feast of the Epiphany.

Catholics in England during the period 1558 to 1829, when Parliament finally emancipated Catholics in England, were prohibited from ANY practice of their faith by law - private OR public. It was a crime to BE a Catholic.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as one of the "catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith - a memory aid, when to be caught with anything in *writing* indicating adherence to the Catholic faith could not only get you imprisoned, or even worse, hanged.

The songs gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn't refer to an earthly suitor, it refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, much in memory of the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so..."; and the others represent as follows;

The Partridge in a Pear Tree
 -  The Christ Child
2 Turtle Doves
 -  The Two Testaments, Old and New
3 French Hens
 -  The Three Theological Virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity
4 Colly Doves
 -  The Four Gospels and the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings
- The First Five Books of the Old Testament (The Torah)
6 Geese a Laying
- The Six Days of Creation
7 Swans a Swimming
- The Seven Sacraments, gifts of the Holy Spirit
8 Maids a Milking
- The 8 Beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing
- The 9 Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords a Leaping
- The 10 Commandments
11 Pipers Piping
- The 11 Faithful Apostles
12 Drummers Drumming
- The Twelve Points of Doctrine in the Creed

While there is some speculation as to the legitimacy of this story, the timing of the Twelve Days of Christmas, beginning on Christmas day and lasting to the Epiphany is a fact and one that I joyfully look forward to each year. 

For many years, when the girls were small, I would wrap up twelve small gifts and they would receive on each day from Christmas to Epiphany, but as they grown older in recent years we have ceased with this tradition, although I am quite certain that in future I will do so again for my grandchildren.  This year I am simply reflecting upon each day and we'll keep the Christmas up for at least another week, maybe longer.  But I'm hoping next year to observe time with a bit more intent. My goal is to stitch this lovely set by Plum Street Sampler.  I'm thinking if I can complete at least one each month, but perhaps two in Autumn, then I will have them ready to go by next Christmas!  I've also decided to restore the tradition of the twelve gifts both for Kate and myself next year and begin now looking for small but meaningful small things to fill these lovely days.  2017 is my year of Intentional Living, so I want to make this part of that! :)

The graphs for these are available for free, here!


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