The Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany: Focusing on "God With Us"

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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:

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:

Also be sure to follow my daily series for each of the twelve days, “The REAL Twelve Days of Christmas”:

The REAL Twelve Days of Christmas: Christmas Day is just the first day of the Christmas celebration! Learn the historical background of this twelve day celebration and get ideas for celebrating with your family!

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.

Blessings to you as we remember the ways Jesus has been revealed to us during this season of Christ’s manifestation…”God With Us”!

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  1. Visiting from HHH! Hope you have a very blessed new year!

  2. That's a really great post. I knew there was a legend about the 12 Days of Christmas song, but I never knew what each thing represented. Thanks for the awesome education!

  3. Anonymous says:

    This is great! I have been a Christian since I was 8 years old and had never known what that song represented or what the 12 days of Christmas was. Thank you so much. I look forward to researching the epiphany.

  4. Kara, Thanks for the resources on the 12 days of Christmas, especially the childrens activity book. It is very Catholic 🙂 One of the best discoveries on my journey home has been the treasure of the liturgical year. The Church has preserved for us through the liturgical year amazing ways to pass on the faith and the 12 days is just one of them. I'm going to put this on my wish list for next year!

  5. Great post with great info. Had a good look around on your site and I will be back!


  1. […] leave my decorations up at least until Epiphany. We don’t really do anything else for Epiphany but being born on it I have always held it […]

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