Christmas Customs: The Twelve Days of Christmas
On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me ...
Twelfth Night or the Twelve Days of Christmas is celebrated in the popular song about gift giving and true love. We often think of the Twelve Days of Christmas as the twelve days leading up to December 25(Julian calendar), but in fact it is twelve days following December 25,marked on January 6. The Twelfth Night is believed to mark the visit of the Three Wise Men or Magi, bearing gifts. The branch of Christianity that follows the Eastern Orthodox faith has different dates for Christmas Day, January 7 and Epiphany, January 19.
Historically, the Twelve Days of Christmas, culminating in the Twelfth Night, have been celebrated more vigorously than Christmas Day. When the Christians were seeking to convert the pagans in Europe, they may have sought to incorporate established celebrations. Feasting, drinking and general misbehavior marked the period. Reversal of gender roles and societal roles, was presided over by the Lord of Misrule until the Twelfth Night when people then returned to their designated roles.
In North American society, Christmas Day now receives more attention than the Twelve Days of Christmas, but while the days leading up to Epiphany have faded in importance, the old tradition has given rise to many customs we retain.
- feasting - the large meal served Christmas Day to family and friends
- drinking - "Christmas Cheer" and parties encouraging alcohol use. The wassail bowl derives from Old English traditions.
- Christmas cakes - not as popular today, but formerly an elaborate cake was served on the Twelfth Night.
- yule log - a fire was kept burning for the Twelve Days of Christmas and extinguished on Twelfth Night.
- taking down of Christmas decorations on the Twelfth Night or bad luck would ensue. This was a practical as well as superstitious belief as Christmas decorations were mainly greenery and would be a fire hazard left any longer.
So as we approach Christmas Day here's a Wassail(translated as be well) to you.