Because you asked…

On Christmas Eve, I was asked for a brief explanation of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  I had mentioned it the day before in my sermon.  Here’s what I wrote and sent via email:

Regarding the Twelve Days of Christmas, there are a few minor discrepancies among the various Christian traditions (i.e., Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism).  However, here are the essentials…

The Twelve Days of Christmas (or, Christmastide, Yuletide, Twelvetide) begin with Christmas Day and run through January 5.

The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a rather old English carol, having first been published in 1780, but was probably written originally in French.  The carol’s purpose is quite debatable, but some suggest that it was originally developed in order to serve as a sort of teaching tool akin to a Catechism.  The gifts given and their suggested biblical/theological representations are as follows:

  • 12 Drummers Drumming (the 12 supposed points of the Apostles’ Creed)

  • 11 Pipers Piping (the 11 faithful Disciples)

  • 10 Lords-a-Leaping (the 10 Commandments)

  • 9 Ladies Dancing (the 9 fruits of the Spirit)

  • 8 Maids-a-Milking (the Beatitudes)

  • 7 Swans-a-Swimming (the gifts of the Spirit)

  • 6 Geese-a-Laying (the days of Creation, the 7th having been the Sabbath rest)

  • 5 Golden Rings (the Torah or Pentateuch [Genesis–Deuteronomy])

  • 4 Calling Birds (the canonical Gospels)

  • 3 French Hens (the three theological virtues [i.e., faith, hope, and love] or perhaps the Magi’s gifts)

  • 2 Turtle Doves (the Old and New Testaments of Scripture)

  • and a Partridge in a Pear Tree (Jesus, the Partridge or Dove traditionally serving a symbol of peace and the Pear Tree representing the wooden manger)

Christmas, which ends at Epiphany, is the second season in the Church’s liturgical calendar, the first being Advent.  While Advent begins four Sundays prior to Christmas and comes from a Latin term (adventus) meaning ‘to come’, Epiphany is January 6 (twelve calendar days after December 25) and comes from a Greek term (επιφανεια) meaning ‘to appear’ or ‘to manifest’.  Epiphany celebrates Christ’s appearance to the Gentile world, seen first in the visit of the Magi from the East.

While the Magi (or, Wisemen, Magicians) are often found in Nativity scenes, they probably didn’t arrive in Bethlehem until Jesus was well beyond a newborn, perhaps as long as two years after His birth.  This takes into consideration the fact that Matthew specifically mentions that the Magi visited Jesus in “the house” rather than in the innkeeper’s stable mentioned in Luke as well as the fact that, upon inquiring from the Magi as to the initial appearance of the star they followed, Herod orders the slaughter of all local infants two years of age and under.  Perhaps Jesus was a few months old; perhaps He was as old as a year and a half or even closer to two.  What we do seem to know, however, is that He had to have been old enough for Mary and Joseph to transition into a more permanent home as they got back on their feet, so to speak, before returning to Nazareth (which they don’t immediately do because of the dream’s warning and their subsequent flight to Egypt).

In the rhythm of the liturgical calendar, these three seasons which begin the Church’s annual pattern of worship lead us as follows: the anticipation of Christ’s coming (and return), His arrival itself, and the wider implication of His incarnation (that He came to redeem all humankind, not just Israel).

About Adam Godbold

husband, father, pastor, and more View all posts by Adam Godbold

2 responses to “Because you asked…

  • Gary K. Briden

    Hi Adam,
    This is good. Would you e-mail me a copy of your January 1 article on the 12 days of Christmas and the 3 seasons of Christmas?
    Gary B.

    • Adam Godbold

      Brother Gary,

      Thank you very much! Sure thing. I’ll send it, but please let me know if I’m sending you the wrong thing. Blessings to you!


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