The 12 days or the 12 Nights of Christmas... How do you celebrate it or do you?

United States
December 18, 2011 9:10pm CST
I reside in the United States where we sing the 12 Days of Christmas:http://www.carols.org.uk/the_twelve_days_of_christmas.htm but we really do not learn much more about it than the words. Most of us believe that the 12 days of Christmas refer to the 12 days before Christmas... That was me until earlier this year as I had never been taught any differently and as I had never researched it on my own. I am wondering how people manage to practice the 12 days of Christmas or the 12 nights of Christmas now? If you practice it, how do you do it? What kinds of gifts do you give? (Certainly not partridges in pear trees... I know that.) What kinds of foods are popular for the 12 nights of Christmas celebrations?
4 responses
@owlwings (39604)
• Cambridge, England
19 Dec 11
As far as I know, nobody now celebrates the '12 days of Christmas' as a Feast. In the past, Christmas was the central Feast of the Church Year and the days between Christmas Day and Epiphany (6th January) were Feast days. This is what the 12 days of Christmas refer to. The idea that it is the 12 days before Christmas is a confusion and a misconception. The proper celebration before Christmas is Advent, which varies in definition from Church to Church but usually begins on the fourth Sunday before December 25th. In England, it is traditional to celebrate Boxing Day on the day after Christmas Day (and it is also a public holiday). The name comes from the fact that tradesmen and people who provided public services would call from door to door expecting donations or tips for the past year's services and they would carry a box for the purpose. It has nothing to do with the pugilistic sport of boxing! People no longer expect tips on Boxing Day but it is usually a day of 'recovery' from the excesses of Christmas Day, a time for family get-togethers and (when hunting was allowed) a day for fox-hunters to gather and follow the hounds. In some parts of England, St Stephen's Day (26th December) was also the day on which a wren (the King of the Birds) was hunted, killed and paraded round the village on the end of a pole. The Twelve Days of Christmas is probably a celebration much older than the Christian Church. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia (the Feast of the god Saturn) for twelve or fourteen days at or around midwinter by bringing greenery into the houses and by several days of feasting and entertaining and there is evidence that other northern cultures celebrated Yule in a similar way. The song, 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' is clearly not a Christian song at all. In fact, it is in a very old cumulative form (where the chorus gets longer as the song progresses) similar to the songs 'Green Grow the Rushes-O' (or 'I'll sing you One-O') and 'The Tree in the Wood', both of which clearly have pagan origins. The English words that we know today appear to be part translation and part corruption of some very old French songs and very similar songs are sung throughout Europe.
1 person likes this
• United States
19 Dec 11
Thanks for your in depth answer here. I had heard of boxing day but thought it had to do with putting away Christmas decorations in boxes... I always thought that it was rather odd that the English put them away so early. Thanks for clearing up that misconception. It is too bad that the public servants are no longer honored although having to go and get those tips might have been a bit difficult to have to do yearly. I must admit that I root for the fox in those fox hunts. And glad I am that the wren now is not paraded on that pole. Thanks for pointing out the history of the 12 days of Christmas. And for pointing out the traditional and non Christian French flavor of the song.
@owlwings (39604)
• Cambridge, England
19 Dec 11
I could have said a lot more but it gets more confusing the more one tries to interpret the song. There has certainly been a lot of rubbish (most of it fairly recent) written about the "real" meaning, especially about it being some kind of Catholic "code" dating from the time of the Reformation - see Snopes about that theory: This is perhaps the most complete page about all the different collected versions: http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/Notes_On_Carols/twelve_days_of_christmas.htm It is clearly a very old song whose real meaning (if it was ever more than just a nonsense song) has long been forgotten, as evidenced by the different gifts which are listed as given in different parts of the country. As one who has long been interested in traditional songs, I can say that the words (and tunes) of orally transmitted songs generally vary remarkably little except where lines and words are misheard, often because they were in a language which was no longer understood by the singer or his audience. It certainly sounds likely to suggest that the French word for 'partridge' - 'perdrix' - has somehow come down to us as 'pear tree'. For the rest of it, I don't know how fanciful or otherwise the interpretations are. This site: http://www.brownielocks.com/twelvedaysofchristmas.html suggests that 'fertility' might be an underlying theme but ends with a fairly conventional 'Christian' symbolism, which, though probably nothing like the original and real meaning of the song, may work for those people who like to sing it but don't want to feel that they are subscribing to a pagan tradition! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I have always rooted for the fox in fox hunting. It's interesting that changes in farming methods (and NOT the existence or banning of fox hunting) have meant that there now are probably more foxes in urban areas than there are in the countryside. In fact, the fox hunting community probably did more to encourage the existence of foxes (because they needed something to hunt, of course), whilst it was legal to hunt, than it did to control or exterminate them. I was always of the opinion that the best and most wily foxes managed to escape the hounds and that only the oldest and least viable one was usually the victim. As for wren hunting, I'm glad that such barbarism is no longer practised but the custom has left us with one or two rather fine songs associated with it, not to mention some stories about why one of our smallest birds was considered the king of them all!
1 person likes this
@owlwings (39604)
• Cambridge, England
19 Dec 11
I missed out the Snopes link: http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/music/12days.asp
1 person likes this
• United States
19 Dec 11
I also thought it refers to the 12 days before Christmas! Now I am going to have to do some research of my own to find out the history of this song. My daughter's wanted me to buy them little trinkets each day but between their presents and their stockings I am done lol
1 person likes this
• United States
19 Dec 11
I found that it apparently is the 12 days from Christmas Day leading to the Little Christmas or the Feast of the Three Kings... Epiphany. I can understand "being done" after all of that Christmas shopping. How about having them make little gifts for each other and for you... It would give them something to do and teach them to focus more on giving and less on just getting something for Christmas.
• United States
19 Dec 11
Wow I should have known that as I from a Hispanic heritage! Although my ancestors have celebrated dis de Los reis ( 3 kings day ) I do not. I am an American first then a Hispanic. Yes I will be making little gifts with them. Great minds do think alike! This is exactly what I told them we are going to do. Also hugs and kisses are great gifts too. That one made them groan of course lol
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• United States
21 Dec 11
How did your ancestors celebrate the 3 kings day? I ask as I have a friend who is coming back from vacation on the 3rd and a 6th of January gathering sounds fun to plan for him.
• Bangladesh
19 Dec 11
As I am not a christian,I do celebrate with my friends.I like your ways of celebration.I have a best christian friend.I want to give him some gift for this Christmas.Can you give me suggestion that what can I give him as a gift?
• United States
19 Dec 11
Gift giving can be easy if you think of getting him something that he would like to receive. It could be anything... Think: What things does he like to do? Would there be a gift that would make doing those things easier? Is there something that you know that your friend needs that you can give him? What things does he like to eat and drink? Perhaps getting him a food or drink gift would be good... or a gift certificate to a place you know he often enjoys going to. Gift giving should be within the amount you can easily afford. It should be a token of your friendship. It does not have to be something major, just something that he would enjoy... Some people make the mistake of getting for others the things that they themselves like without thinking about the likes and dislikes of the ones receiving the gift. Christmas gift giving is similar to birthday gift giving. It does not have to be a "Christian" gift to be good.
@Lakota12 (42684)
• United States
19 Dec 11
In all my years I dont hink we ever really did any thing for the 12 days or night LIke the song says Never learned to wasnt taught to us I am sure.
1 person likes this
• United States
19 Dec 11
I never did anything for them either... Although I did celebrate the Feast of the 3 Kings or Epiphany especially when friends were out of town for the Holidays and returned on time enough to celebrate that holiday with me.