Not everyone celebrates the 12 Days of Christmas.
If your family is like mine, and many families who are not a part of liturgical church traditions are, we mistakenly assume that the 12 Days of Christmas occur before Christmas and are all about giving strange and random gifts that cost a fortune and no one quite understands. Ten lords a-leaping? Um, no way. I think I’ll pass.
Sans lords, pipers, drummers and company, most of our Christmas seasons begin after Thanksgiving or the first of December and last through December 25. And then it’s over. Time to box up the decorations, put away the nativity, and think about the new year.
However, in traditions much older than ours (beginning somewhere around about 350 A.D.), Christmas was celebrated as a twelve day feast called Christmastide, beginning the morning of December 25th to celebrate the Nativity of Christ and ending on January 6th to mark the Epiphany, or the magi’s visit to the Christ child and thus the first revelation of Christ to the Gentiles.
Some cultures use Epiphany to celebrate all of the events of Jesus’ childhood up to and including His baptism in the Jordan River and the miracle He performed at the Wedding in Cana where he turned water into wine. Both the wedding (His first miracle) and His baptism signify the first events where Jesus is shown to the world as the Son of God which is what the word epiphany is all about. Epiphany in the Greek is epiphanei, meaning manifestation or appearance. Epiphany is the celebration of the appearance of God to the world.
In ancient times, Epiphany celebrations included priests announcing Easter’s date since calendars weren’t available and the date varies from year to year.
To wrap up your Christmas celebration by looking ahead and contemplating Jesus’ sacrifice puts the Christmas story in perspective for me. After all, isn’t that why He came to this earth and was born in a manger?
Since we celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, we can imagine those twelve days between December 25 and January 6 are packed with significant timeline events from Jesus’ dedication in the temple by Simeon and Anna to the arrival of those wise men from the east.
I write all that to say, I don’t think I am quite done with Christmas yet…
And as I sit and reflect on all the ways Jesus has appeared in my and my family’s lives throughout the past year and give thanks with faith and eager anticipation for all the wondrous ways He will manifest Himself in the new year, my heart is overwhelmed…
And I know that I am not at all done with Christmas.
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. John 1:14
To read more about Epiphany, the 12 Days of Christmas, the 12th Night, King’s Cake, and more, check out these resources:
- The History of Epiphany by Nicholas Pokhilko
- The Twelve Days of Christmas by Dennis Bratcher, Christian Resource Institute
- Epiphany, a well-documented wiki entry