Twelve Days of Christmas


Christmas is a season not a day. Here are some ideas to make the Christmas spirit last…

Beginning on Christmas day and ending on the Feast of the Epiphany (6th January) Christmastide is an ancient tradition, marking celebrations for twelve days. In the Middle Ages, it was a time of continuous feasting and revelry.

It has been immortalised forever in Shakespeare’s romantic comedy Twelfth Night, Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol and the traditional Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Due to the rise of secular traditions and the commercialisation of Christmas, this season has largely been forgotten as more and more emphasis is given to pre-Christmas shopping and post-Christmas sales. CathFamily is proud to join the movement to reclaim Christmas as a truly Christ-centered festival.


On the First Day of Christmas…

You may have heard or read about the Christian symbolism of the popular carol The Twelve Days of Christmas. The story goes that the 16th Century carol was actually an encoded catechesis on the Christian faith recited during the persecutions and religious turmoil in Tudor England.

As clever and plausible as it sounds, this interpretation is not historically accurate, but is a modern re-reading of the symbolism of the various gifts. The primary evidence of the time indicates that The Twelve Days of Christmas was a catchy ditty describing the various feasting and merry-making that was part of Christmastide.

But… the myth does make for a great story, and in the face of the rampant commercialisation of Christmas, the reinterpretation of the carol is part of a broader attempt by Christians to reclaim the true meaning of Christmas.

Sacred Numbers

The Judeo-Christian tradition understands numbers to have a rich and symbolic meaning. The myth of The Twelve Days of Christmas draws on this tradition and is a clever way of engaging children in understanding the teachings of the Church.

Twelve Days of Christmas MeaningTwelve Ways to Celebrate…

To Start: 25th Dec | Christmas Day

Have a birthday cake for the birthday boy! This is a great way to consolidate Christmas as the celebration of the birthday of Christ.

Giorgio Vasari's Martyrdom of St Stephen

Giorgio Vasari’s Martyrdom of St Stephen

1. Dec 26 | St Stephen

As a deacon in the early Church, St Stephen was stoned to death.
Have a stone skipping competition or collect some stones and decorate them with  ‘Stephen’ or a crown (the meaning of his name).

2. Dec 27 | St John the Apostle

As the ‘beloved disciple’ and author of the fourth Gospel, John’s writings express his intimacy and affection for Christ.
Tell someone you love them today.

3. Dec 28 | Feast of the Holy Innocents

A day to remember the innocent victims of Herod.
Pray today for all children, preborn and born, who have lost their lives.

The Holy Family4.  Dec 29 | St Thomas Beckett

As the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas called the King of England to account and was martyred 1170.
Invite one of your non-catholic friends to Mass and a meal.

5. Dec 30 | Feast of the Holy Family

A day to honour family.
Get a family photo taken today, or call a family relative that you have not seen for a while.

6. Dec 31 | St Pope Sylvester I

As the Pope during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine, Sylvester is often depicted slaying a dragon.
Play a dragon game or watch a dragon movie together.

7. Jan 1 | Mary, Mother of God

As the new year starts, make your resolution something that will build your family life.
Commit to a weekly family night or keep Sunday for worship and family time.

The Holy Hierarchs. From Left to Right, St Basil, St John Crysostom and St Gregory Nanzianzen

The Holy Hierarchs. From Left to Right, St Basil, St John Crysostom and St Gregory Nanzianzen

8. Jan 2 | Sts Basil the Great & Gregory Nanzianzen

As founders of the monastic movement in the Eastern church, Basil and Gregory modelled simplicity of living.
Do that clean up you have been meaing to do. Pass on your unwanted clothes to charity. Throw out the rubbish that clutters your life.

9. Jan 3 | Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus

In Jewish tradition, babies are given a name and the boys are circumcised on the eighth day after birth.
Today, wear the name of Jesus proudly: write it in chalk on the sidewalk, tattoo with pens his name on your arm, make flags or streamers with the name of ‘Jesus’, paint a t-shirt.

St Elizabeth Ann Seton's home before her conversion in New York City.

St Elizabeth Ann Seton’s home before her conversion in New York City.

10. Jan 4 | St Elizabeth Ann Seton

As a young widow and mother, Elizabeth converted to the Catholic faith and started a school to educate her own children as well as the poor of Baltimore.
Do something educational with the family today – visit a museum, watch a documentary, get a book from the library.

11. Jan 5 | St John Neuman

While serving as the Archbishop of Philadelphia, John established an extensive Catholic school system, was an advocate for peace and was able to hear confessions in six languages.
Learn to say “The Peace of Christ be with you” in another language today (try Google translator). 

12. Jan 6 | The Epiphany

Marking the visit by the Magi (three learned men from the East), epiphany means “appearance, manifestation”.
Make a gift to God today: 

  • Gold – something from your material wealth.
  • Frankincense – a talent or special gift that you could use for God’s glory.
  • Myrrh – a gift of time to give in service to another.
  • Try using our Epiphany Gift Box Printable: click here



Finish How you Started… with cake!

A traditional European festive food for the Epiphany is a King Cake. There are dozens of variations, but essential to all of them is the little figurine of the baby Jesus baked inside. The person who bites into the figurine is crowned King for the day and is to make the King Cake for next year. Check out Catholic Cusine for recipes.

This article featured in the January 2013 edition of the CathFamily e-Magazine.

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Francine Pirola

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