The Twelve Days of Christmas
Merry Christmas! What a joy it is to be able to say those words. After a long season of waiting the joy of the season has arrived. Whether you hear these words on Christmas day or thought the first week of January, they are still true and appropriate. Because, contrary to all of the pre-Christmas sales and pre-Christmas movie count downs, the twelve days of Christmas begin the day after Christmas and run through January 6th, Epiphany.
Traditionally there are twelve days to celebrate the birth of Christ in the Christian year, ending with the celebration of the Magi bringing gifts to the Christ Child.
But like so many things in our world, the twelve days have been rushed. They have been placed before Christmas so that Christmas feels like an ending, instead of a beginning. Once the packages are open, the feast consumed, the joy seems to end.
This should not be so for us who celebrate the birth of Christ! Our joy should go on throughout the season.
There are many theories and ways to do this. Perhaps doing an act of kindness every one of the twelve days would be a good way to share the continuing joy of Christ with others. Some people use advent calendar type reminders of the twelve days. There are churches who have twelve days of Christmas services or Christmas prayers open to all who wish to extend their joy of the season.
There is a song about the Twelve days of Christmas written down in the late 17 hundreds, although its origin is more than likely older. Most of you are familiar with it. It is about a true love sending gifts that increase in extravagance throughout the season. While it more than likely was just a children’s song for fun and mirth, recently people have begun to ascribe theological meanings to the lyrics.
A common story linked to the song is that it was used as a secret catechism during the 1500’s-1700 while Catholicism was against the law in great Brittan. The lyrics were infused with meanings that only the faithful would understand. Some people, including the authors of snopes.com will tell you that such meanings are false. They state that singing a catechism song only at Christmas would lead to very bad memorization at the very least.
While it is true that the song itself has French roots, I would argue with Snopes.com and other neigh Sayers.
I don’t believe that the original intent of the song was to be a catechism. But, that doesn’t mean it can’t be used that way.
In the same manner Christians have adopted traditions from all over the world to represent the birth and salvation through Jesus. The evergreen tree was not originally a sign of God’s continual unending mercy. It was a sign of the hope that a new year would come and that life did not end in winter.
A good number of scholars believe Jesus was born in June, not December, but the church picked this time of year to consider with festivals that were already occurring. To give new meaning to old and beloved traditions. To share the good news of Jesus through any means necessary.
So I will now give you the Christian interpretation of the twelve Days of Christmas, Not claiming that this was the intent of the writers, but claiming it as a way we can share God through all things!
On the first Day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.
The “true love” spoken of throughout the song is God. The partridge is Jesus, who willingly gave up his life to protect the children of God.
. . . Two turtle doves the two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments.
. . . Three French Hens The Christian values of Faith Hope, and love
. . . Four Calling Birds The four gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
. . . Five golden rings the first five books of the bible, known as the Pentateuch
. . . Six geese a laying the six days of creation
. . . Seven Swans a swimming the sevenfold gifts of the spirit Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy
. . . Eight maids a milking The Beatitudes
. . . Nine ladies dancing The nine fruits of the Holy Spirit-----love, Joy, Peace, Patience [Forbearance], Goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
. . . Ten Lords a Leaping The Ten commandments
. . . Eleven Pipers Piping the Eleven Faithful Disciples
. . . Twelve Drummers Drumming The twelve points of belief found in the Apostle’s creed
Remember the season of Christmas does not end on the 25th of December! Keep it with you, at least for the next twelve days, if not year round. Bring the joy of Christ through every door. Let the love of Christ show up in unexpected places, like a 16th century French Carol, or at the local Starbucks, or in the return line at Kohl’s!
May your days be filled with the love of Christ and the joy of his birth! Amen and Amen.