The Twelve Days of Christmas are the beginning of Christmas celebrations which last for twelve days. The Christmas carol is an important part and is, in fact, synonymous with The Twelve Days of Christmas. The carol or the song is sung in parts, one each day, until the Twelfth Day. The customs vary from country to country and region to region. In the Eastern Church (traditions which developed in Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, Middle East and other such parts which do not include the traditions of Western Europe), the St. Stephen's Day is celebrated on December 27, whereas in the Western church it is observed on December 26. These twelve days are marked by merrymaking and singing of the carol. This carol has twelve verses, each of which is sung every day till the last day. The first day of these twelve days is December 25, or the following day according to some beliefs. Read on for more.
The Christmas Carol And Celebrations
The origin of the Twelve Days of Christmas is complex and it is calculated differently in different places, due to the difference in calendars. The actual origin of the song is unknown and obscure. Twelve Days of Christmas is an English carol but there is written evidence which shows that it was originally written in French. The Western churches consider Epiphany the day when the Three Wise Men, or the Magi, visit baby Jesus to bless him and present him with gifts. Bible however, does not state the number of Magi who arrived that night; the number is assumed as three because Jesus is said to have received three gifts that night. The Western Church also begins Twelve Days of Christmas celebrations on 26th December which is St. Stephen's Day. For the Eastern Christianity, 27 December is the beginning of Twelvetide (Twelve Days of Christmas). During the Middle Ages, these twelve days was considered as a period of endless feasting and carnival. On the Twelfth night, the celebration reached its summit as it was the last day of Christmas festivities.
In the 16th century, many Pagan traditions and customs were merged to give a new meaning to the Twelve Days of Christmas. They were associated with the commencement of the New Year and the evacuation of the evil spirits by singing the carol and filling the environment with fiesta. The Twelfth Night falls on January 5, the last day before the Feast of Epiphany. In fact, the Twelfth Night is the evening of January 5 and is marked by removal of the Christmas decorations and with scrumptious festive delicacies. In many parts of the world, especially in Europe, a "King's cake" is baked and cut to commemorate the visit of the three Magi. Over the centuries, many customs have been added to the celebrations. The religious importance of the Twelve Days of Christmas has changed and acquired a new definition with the passage of time. The religious connotation is that of the birth of Jesus Christ and the visit of the Magi, who have said to have taken twelve days to reach Baby Jesus.
Gifts are exchanged either on 25th December or on the Twelfth Night, or both. The Feast of Epiphany, or Theophany, celebrates the revelation of Jesus Christ in his human form. The Western Christianity considers this day as the one when the wise men, Magi visited infant Jesus, whereas the Eastern Christians commemorate it as the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. In both the senses, the celebration marks the exposure of Jesus, Son of God, in his human form.
The Christmas Carol
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is considered a song for children in the modern times, but back in the 16th century, it had a serious purpose. It was written in England as an "underground catechism song" for the Catholics who were suppressed owing to the religious conflicts and wars prevalent at the time. They were not allowed to practice their faiths and customs publicly and hence the need for such secrecy. The Twelve Days of Christmas was a tool to educate the youngsters about the fundamentals of Christianity. The words and phrases are allegorical in nature, for instance, "true love" means God Himself rather than a lover and "partridge in a pear tree" is Jesus Christ. All these words have hidden meanings so that the teachings of the faith could be publicly pursued. Now, the song has become mandatory to the Twelve Days of Christmas and is recited to the children as a part of a long followed tradition.
On the whole, the Twelve Days of Christmas, despite the slight variations in legends and customs, capture the spirit and religious sentiments attached to Christmas. Christians, all over the world, eagerly wait for Christmas as it brings with it, a period which is not only fun packed but also emphasizes faith in God. The carol, feasting and merrymaking are inevitable to the Twelve Days of Christmas.
The tradition of observing the Twelve Days of Christmas is as timeless as the festival itself and asserts the belief in God. Read on to know about the Twelve Days of Christmas carol as well.