The season of anticipation is over! All our Advent activities are complete and Christmas Day has come and gone. What now? Do we take down all the decorations and move on to New Year’s?
In our family, we choose to observe the twelve days of Christmas…the days between Christmas Day and Epiphany on January 6th. This marks the beginning of the season of manifestation or recognition. The event recognized most commonly at Epiphany is the Magi’s visit, although both Jesus’ baptism and His first miracle at Cana are also associated with the day. This season and day are generally overlooked in our culture, but giving Epiphany it’s due helps all of us to better understand Jesus, His mission in the world, and our own response to the gift of God’s grace.
We begin on the 26th with the Feast of St. Stephen or “Boxing Day“. Some simple suggestions:
- Read the story of Stephen in Acts 6-8.
- Read about Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia and sing his carol.
- The RCA website has more good ideas.
Each of the twelve days, we also do a small activity or reading to lead up to Epiphany.
According to legend, each day in the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” has a Christian meaning behind it:
- My True Love = God
- Partridge in a pear tree = Jesus
- Two turtle doves = Old and New Testaments
- Three french hens = Faith, hope, and charity
- Four calling birds = Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke & John
- Five golden rings = Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy
- Six geese a-laying = Six days of creation
- Seven swans a-swimming = Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
- Eight maids a-milking = Eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-10)
- Nine ladies dancing = Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control (Galatians 5: 22-23)
- Ten lords a-leaping = Ten Commandments
- Eleven pipers piping = Eleven faithful apostles
- Twelve drummers drumming = Twelve points of the Apostle’s Creed
Whether or not the legend behind the carol is true, we enjoy reading Helen Haidle’s book, The 12 Days of Christmas: The Story Behind a Favorite Christmas Song and coloring pages from The Christian Origin of the Twelve Days of Christmas: A Children’s Activity Book each day.
We also enjoy learning about traditions around the world and reading books like The Legend of Old Befana and The Story of the Three Wise Kings by Tomie dePaola. I’ve mentioned the book Celebrating the Christian Year before, it has some wonderful ideas for this day also. On Twelfth Night or Epiphany, we have a small celebration with a King’s Cake and sometimes a small family gift (a DVD to watch together, a new board or card game, or something along those lines). I’ll share more about what we’re doing over the next week or two, and these links have some great information too:
- Twelve Ideas for Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas
- The Real Twelve Days of Christmas
- Keeping Christmas: All Twelve Days
- Family Ideas for Epiphany
- Reclaiming Epiphany
Also be sure to follow my daily series for each of the twelve days, “The REAL Twelve Days of Christmas”:
- The Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany: Celebrating “God With Us”
- Day One: A Partridge in a Pear Tree
- Day Two: Two Turtle Doves
- Day Three: Three French Hens
- Day Four: Four Calling Birds
- Day Five: Five Golden Rings
- Day Six: Six Geese A-Laying
- Day Seven: Seven Swans A-Swimming
- Day Eight: Eight Maids A-Milking
- Day Nine: Nine Ladies Dancing
- Day Ten: Ten Lords A-Leaping
- Day Eleven: Eleven Pipers Piping
- Day Twelve: Twelve Drummers Drumming
- Epiphany is Here!
We’ve found that spreading our celebration throughout the Advent and Epiphany season by observing Advent, St. Nicholas Day, the twelve days of Christmas, and Epiphany really helps our family focus on the spirit of generosity and giving and what Christ’s birth actually means for us rather than being distracted by all the commercialization and greediness that seems to characterize so much of the season.