Merry Christmas to all my friends and whomever happens to stumble on this site! It’s morning as I write this. No presents yet, not even breakfast. Kathy and I sit by the fire, excerpts from the Messiah playing, sipping our orange-juice free mimosas. The nature of the crisis at hand hit me early. Kathy and I have a shoe box full of our favorite Christmas CDs, which lives in the storage room till this wonderful time of year. Between Spotify, WRCJ and WFMT, most of our Christmas music needs have been met by our iTouch. We decided this morning to pull and play our favorites. We’d played a few here and there, but there were a lot we haven’t heard for a year. The pile got pretty big pretty fast and we realized there weren’t going to be enough hours in this day to play even a fraction of them, no matter how late we stayed up. What to do? The thought came, aren’t there 12 days of Christmas? Sure we all know the silly song with the French hens, turtle doves, five gold rings and all, but what about those 12 days? For most of us Americans, it’s back to work on the 26th and that’s that. Maybe a little bargain shopping and some lousy football with a hiccup for New Year’s, plus still a slowdown at the office, but the post-Christmas hangover wastes no time in arriving. Those of us church goers hear our pastors refer to the Sunday after New Year’s as “Epiphany”, but I’m not sure we emerge knowing what “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure” we’d just experienced. But if we understand Epiphany, we might begin to understand the bookends of what was once a week and a half of festivities, not just the climax of Christmas we’ve come to accept. Epiphany marks the day the baby Jesus was visited by the Magi (the 3 Wise Men). Not that long ago, each day between Christmas and Epiphany was marked by a feast honoring a saint. Here it is explained (from https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/12daysofchristmas.shtml)
- Day 1 (25th December): Christmas Day – celebrating the Birth of Jesus
- Day 2 (26th December also known as Boxing Day): St Stephen’s Day. He was the first Christian martyr (someone who dies for their faith). It’s also the day when the Christmas Carol ‘Good King Wenceslas‘ takes place.
- Day 3 (27th December): St John the Apostle (One of Jesus’s Disciples and friends)
- Day 4 (28th December): The Feast of the Holy Innocents – when people remember the baby boys which King Herod killed when he was trying to find and kill the Baby Jesus.
- Day 5 (29th December): St Thomas Becket. He was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th century and was murdered on 29th December 1170 for challenging the King’s authority over the Church.
- Day 6 (30th December): St Egwin of Worcester.
- Day 7 (31st December): New Year’s Eve (known as Hogmanay in Scotland). Pope Sylvester I is traditionally celebrated on this day. He was one of the earliest popes (in the 4th Century). In many central and eastern European countries (including Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czechia, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland and Slovenia) New Year’s Eve is still sometimes called ‘Silvester’. In the UK, New Year’s Eve was a traditional day for ‘games’ and sporting competitions. Archery was a very popular sport and during the middle ages it was the law that it had to be practised by all men between ages 17-60 on Sunday after Church! This was so the King had lots of very good archers ready in case he need to go to war!
- Day 8 (1st January): 1st January – Mary, the Mother of Jesus
- Day 9 (2nd January): St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, two important 4th century Christians.
- Day 10 (3rd January): Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This remembers when Jesus was officially ‘named’ in the Jewish Temple. It’s celebrated by different churches on a wide number of different dates!
- Day 11 (4th January): St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint, who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the past it also celebrated the feast of Saint Simon Stylites (who lives on a small platform on the top of a pillar for 37 years!).
- Day 12 (5th January also known as Epiphany Eve): St. John Neumann who was the first Bishop in American. He lived in the 19th century.
The eve of day 12 – Twelfth Night – is still a big deal in England. One big party. Poor and rich often change roles. Shakespeare titled a play about it. Practically speaking, it’s traditional to take your Christmas decorations down after 12th night. We leave ours up to Imbolc (Feb 2nd, a.k.a, Groundhog day https://wordpress.com/post/theviewfromharbal.com/163).
Some say early Christians appropriated this time of year to celebrate the birth of our Savior in order to co-opt the Pagans, who had a dandy celebration going at the time of the winter solstice called Yule (https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/holydays/year.shtml). I don’t know how long the Pagans went at it after Yule, but the Christians sure knew how to keep the party going! Falling away from the church means some spiritual losses to be sure, but look what else you’re missing! Kathy and I are looking forward to celebrating the next 12 days to the fullest, including playing all that Christmas music!
Wishing you all a joyous 12 days.