Mission Column January 13, 2021
Usually when you hear about “The 12 Days of Christmas” you think of the catchy Christmas carol which is a number building song about gifts that “my true love gave to me.” But is there any secret meaning behind the “11 pipers piping” and the “10 lords a leaping”? While there are a few contemporary theories about the carol being a catechism song which had hidden meaning during the Anglican persecution of Catholics in England, those theories don’t stand up well to historical scrutiny. The 12 days of Christmas are part of an old Catholic culture which celebrated the dozen days of feasting and celebrating between Christmas Day and the Epiphany. It’s a time to let our regular daily routine at the end of the year be influenced by the Christian narrative of Jesus’ birth. So don’t put your Christmas tree in the garbage on December 26 but rejoice and celebrate Christ’s birth throughout the entire liturgical season of Christmas.
During the Middle Ages, fasting was often demanded of Catholics throughout the year. But the Church taught that fasting was not to characterize the days of celebrating Christ’s birth from the day after Christmas through the Epiphany, a period which lasted 12 days. Many cultural traditions developed about giving gifts and attending Church services during this season of joyfulness and good food. So the Christmas carol about gifts on the 12 days of Christmas is about those ancient traditions of people giving each other little treats in remembrance of Christ’s birth.
Within the 12 days we find on the Octave of Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We are reminded of the important place of domestic life in God’s plan of salvation. New Year’s Day is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. It is a day of prayer for justice and peace in the world. Pope Francis has asked us to build a world where the peace and justice of God will shine forth. A special highlight during Christmas Time is the Epiphany of the Lord. This is the feast when we remember the three Kings who came to venerate the Lord Jesus and bring him gifts. In some countries it always falls on January 6, but in many countries, such as the United States, it is transferred to a Sunday. The Bible calls the royal visitors “Magi,” what we sometimes translate as wise men. Many Catholic countries have traditions on this day where children look forward to finding gifts left to them from the Kings.
The Baptism of the Lord is the end of the Christmas liturgical season. It is a reminder that we have been baptized in Christ and are called to be missionaries. Because of Jesus' public ministry after His Baptism, the Reign of God has been inaugurated and we have been saved. May the Time of Christmas so enrich our spiritual lives that we may go forth joyfully to spread the Gospel to the entire world. For the full article http://blog.missio.org/knowyourfaith/a-dozen-days-of-christmas