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Original Meaning and Traditions Of The Twelve Days Of Christmas, An Irish Christmas Code and 12th Night
ON THE FIRST DAY OF CHRISTMAS...A Glorious 14 Days of Celebration
© Patty Inglish, 12/03/11.
Such a lot of traditions fill Christmas Eve, the actual Twelve Days of Christmas, Twelfth Night, and Orthodox Christmas and Epiphany, that one can scarcely handle the Glory of them all at once. And then, there is the traditional Handsel's Monday nearest Orthodox Christmas, where children go door to door for coins; in parts of Scotland it's the first Monday of the new year or the first Monday after the 12th of January, when an elaborate celebration is held in farming communities. This loaded calendar makes for a lot of activities across a fortnight, all packed in from December 24 to January 6 (or 7).
We really have 14 days of Christmas, the famous Twelve Days falling in between one Christmas Eve and another Christmas.
In fact, during American Colonial days, Christmas was celebrated from December 25 - January 6, as it had been in England. It was a time of solemn church services, banquets, and similar events. Then for a time, Christmas festivities targeted as too festive were banned for immorality. The secret of the song The 12 Days of Christmas was kept well, because it was thought only a child's counting song from the one-room school houses.
12 Days and Happy Recipes
- The 12 Days of Christmas In Ireland
The Irish have historically celebrated the 12 Days of Christmas from Christmas Eve through Twelfth Night, plus the closest Monday - Handsels Day.
- Favorite Holiday Recipes - Mincemeat
Mincemeat pie in a British tradition made with beef; but you can make it without meat.
Some or many Believers resent the greeting Happy Holidays that includes all religious and secular holidays in December and January, because it is a mandate against Merry Christmas. I say them both -- Christmas is two weeks of holy days (holidays) and feast days, when I understand the song and the remembrances on each of the days.
In addition, preacher Jesse Duplantis of Louisiana says he tells members of other faiths that he will celebrate their holidays with them and then invite them also to celebrate Christmas with him. It's a good example. When businesses where I've worked instructed us to say Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas, I said both whenever possible and if not, I thought about The Twelve Days of Christmas and the code.
Why are the Twelve Days famous? They have become a song sung in many languages (and parodies) and a legend -- But in old Ireland, they were a Code for celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, God's Gift to Mankind.
A Ban On Celebrating Christmas
A handful of my ancestors moved to Ireland while others remained in England a few hundred years ago. They all experienced the ban by English Parliament on Christmas celebrations for being sacrilegious and they stopped making mince pies. Many of these people and their neighbors were Presbyterian, which already had somber church services, so this pleased the Parliament. Scotland placed a ban as well on revelries and mince pie, and this took care of another branch of my family.
Mincemeat pies were banned, because they had become a symbol of the Christmas season. In the American Colonies before the Revolution, mince pies and Christmas were banned also, especially by the Puritans in the Northeast, for up two decades. My British ancestors in the New World saw fines levied by the government for having mince pies, celebrating in the streets, gambling, dancing, drinking, and other activities ("revelries"). After the war was over and America was independent, my family baked mince pies again, making their own mincemeat and using real beef. The revelries were a little slower in taking shape again.
Singing The Twelve Days of Christmas had been the workaround for the obstacle of laws passed against Christmas festivities. The popular song is still celebrated today.
The Code of The 12 Days of Christmas Carol
Day of Christmas
Christmas Eve, the Holy Night when the Animals talk, according to legend.
Joseph and Mary accepted lodgings in a stable.
Day 1: December 25
Christ (The One) is a Partridge in a Pear Tree and God's Gift to the Believer/Church (the singer of the song)
Christmas Day of Christ's Birth
Day 2: December 26
2 Turtle Doves represent Old and New Testaments. Signs of Christ's Advent are found in all of the books of each.
Biblegateway.com/ offers dozens of translations, including literal.
Day 3: December 27
3 French Hens are from Faith , Hope and Love.
From I Corinthians 13, New Testament
Day 4: December 28
4 Calling Birds are the Books of The Gospels.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - Four versions of Christ's life, death, and reserrection.
Day 5: December 29
5 Golden Rings are the 5 Books of the Torah.
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament .
Day 6: December 30
6 Geese Laying are the Six Days of Creation.
Day 7: December 31
7 Swans Swimming symbolize the Gifts of the Spirit.
From the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 -- Word of Knowledge, Word of Wisdom, Special Faith, Healing, Miracles, Prophecy, Discerning of Spirits, Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues.
Day 8: January 1
8 Maids Milking represent the Beatitudes form the Sermon On the Mount (see below)
Mathew 5: 3-11
Day 9: January 2
9 Ladies Dancing are the 9 Fruits of the Spirit.
Nine gifts in Galatians 22 and 23 - Love, joy, peace, forbearance )long-sufferig tolerance), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Day 10: January 3
10 Lords Leaping are the 10 Commandments.
Day 11: January 4
11 Pipers Piping are the 11 Disciples that continued spreading (piping) the Good News after Judas left.
Day 12: January 5
12 Drummers Drumming show the Apostles Creed of the Church. (see below)
Christmas Eve on the Julian Calendar
An Orthodox Christmas, especially in Armenia, but on the Gregorian Calendar, this is Epiphany. Much of Orthodox Christendom celebrates Christmas on January 7.
On Epiphany (or Theophony), Christ was revealed by God as His Son to the Wise Men (Maji).
Spectacular Animation For the Carol
The Journey of Epiphany
SNAPSHOT: Christmas 2011
The Beatitudes, from Young's Literal Translation
Matthew 5: 3-11; from BibleGateway.com:
- 3. Happy the poor in spirit -- because theirs is the reign of the heavens.
- 4. Happy the mourning -- because they shall be comforted.
- 5. Happy the meek -- because they shall inherit the land.
- 6. Happy those hungering and thirsting for righteousness -- because they shall be filled.
- 7. Happy the kind -- because they shall find kindness.
- 8. Happy the clean in heart -- because they shall see God.
- 9. Happy the peacemakers -- because they shall be called Sons of God.
- 10. Happy those persecuted for righteousness' sake -- because theirs is the reign of the heavens.
- 11. Happy are ye whenever they may reproach you, and may persecute, and may say any evil thing against you falsely for my sake...
Orthodox Icon of the Nativity
The Apostles' Creed from Memory
The Apostles' Creed is recited in a few versions, and one of the popular texts often used today is one that I learned and offered below. originally, it was thought that each one of the 12 Disciples contributed one line of the Creed, but later scriptural researchers and critics felt the text was written much later and after the deaths of the first 12 Apostles.
- I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth
- And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord
- Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary
- Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.
- He descended into Hell (this phrase if often left out). On the third day, he rose again from he dead.
- He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father.
- He will come again to judge the quick (living) and the dead.
- I believe in the Holy Spirit,
- the holy catholic (all believers) Church, the Communion of Saints,
- the forgiveness of sins,
- the resurrection of the body,
- and life everlasting.
A longer version is the Nicene Creed, which has been set to music by a number of churches and individuals and can be lovely to hear.
Twelfth Night in Literature
Twelfth Night s a night of costume parties and in certain parts of the world, it marks the beginning of Mardi Gras Season with weekly parties until the week of Mardi Gras, when nightly parties rule.
A Twelfth Night Celebration in a pub in a town in the UK turns deadly. Intrigue and mystery are attended by Detective Inspector Richard Jury of Scotland Yard, Sergeant Wiggins and his natural cures, and the sometimes-Lord Ardry - Melrose Plant.
William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or What You Will was the first Shakespearean play I saw in high school, after reading them all. I enjoyed the comedy set among the revelries that were once outlawed for Christmas in UK and Colonial America.
On top of this are practical jokes, missing brothers and twins, women disguising themselves as men and having women fall in love with them, madness and ambition, love making people sick, and so on.
The play has remained my favorite of Shakespeare's to this day.
Twelfth Night is important in the Martha Grimes mystery The Old Fox Deceiv'd as well. This is one of my favorites in the Richard Jury series. The title of the book is a pub in Rackmore, England, on the North Sea.
Twelfth Night is celebrated in the foggy fishing village and more than one person wears the same costume, but only one is found murdered on a sidewalk bench on the Angel Steps. No one seems to know who she is, but she might be related to the richest family in town.
It's all a kind of dark, dark Mardi Gras.
Additional History and Information
- What is Epiphany or Little Christmas or Twelfth Night?
Twelve Drummers Drumming are tenets of the Nicene Creed and characters in the beloved Christmas carol
- The 12 Days of Christmas In Ireland
The Irish have celebrated the 12 Days of Christmas from Christmas Eve through the night of January 5-6 [Twelfth Night], plus the closest Monday - Handsels Day, upon which children receive small presents again...
- Twelve Days of Christmas -- How to Count In the Russian
Russian is a great language and it is fun to hear and learn the alphabet and to count. There are other fun things about Russian as well...