people of faith


Christmas: Twelve Days
by Barbara Laufersweiler of Faith at Home

We pretty much know the verses of the Christmas carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," right? Drummers drumming, maids a-milking, five gold rings, and that partridge, all being given by someone's true love. Did you also know that the 12 days "of Christmas" are the days of the church season of Christmas, starting with Christmas Day itself? True!

For those who follow the church liturgical year, Christmas Day, or the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus, is the first day of the Christmas season. Really!

The 12th and final day is January 5, and the season of Epiphany begins the following day. Some centuries ago those 12 days included lots of mid-winter celebration (sound familiar?).

The Christian church set various holy days on these days of Christmas to highlight the beginning of Christianity. For instance, December 26 is St. Stephen's Day, commemorating Stephen, the first disciple of Jesus to become a Christian martyr, when he was killed by being stoned to death.

December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, to remember the children under the age of two that Herod had ordered killed in an attempt to end the life of the child (Jesus) he'd heard called the King of the Jews.

The story is told that the song "The 12 Days of Christmas" is a catechism in code for persecuted Catholics from an anti-Catholic time in England, with each day's gifts representing an element of Christianity. This is a legend, not true but definitely fun to think about. In reality, the song is a remnant of the many counting songs common centuries ago in England.

The 12 days of Christmas are, as they have been for centuries, a time to remember the beginnings of Christianity, starting with the birth of Jesus the Christ.


Barbara Laufersweiler is an at-home mom, an Episcopalian, and the creator of Faith at Home,, a Web site offering help to parents as they explore and enjoy faith with their children. Copyright 2001 Barbara K. Laufersweiler. All rights reserved.

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