Have you ever heard the song “The 12 Days of Christmas”?
You know the one “One the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.”
As I was researching for this unit study I stumbled a fun little legend, apparently this song is just a nonsensical Christmas song about someone’s true love who gave them fairly odd gifts.
The legend goes that this song was written by Christians to teach their children the faith. This was around the 16th century, and Christians at the time were facing persecution, so parents had found a way to essentially Catechize their children in secret code.
Each gift from the true love supposedly represents something from the Bible, the legend is as follows:
A partridge in a pear tree = Jesus Christ
Two Turtle Doves = The Old & New Testaments
Three French Hens = Faith, Hope, and Love or the trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Four Calling Birds = The Four Gospels
Five Golden Rings = The Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament)
Six Geese-A-Layin’ = The six days of creation
Seven Swans-A-Swimmin’ = The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Eight Maids-A-Milkin’ = The Eight Beatitudes
Nine Ladies Dancing = The Fruits of the Spirit
Ten Lords-A-Leapin’ = The Ten Commandments
Eleven Pipers Piping = Eleven Apostles, not Judas
Twelve Drummers Drumming = Twelve points of believe in the Apostle’s Creed
Now I’m not completely sure if this is true, or just a legend floating around on the internet. But I found it fascinating and it certainly puts a new spin on the song that until now has seemed kind of pointless and not really Christmas-y.
Why are there 12 days of christmas
Simply put, there are 12 days of Christmas because the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is just too much to celebrate in one day!
In the Western church Christmas actually begins on December 25th (the day we celebrate the birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ) and ends 12 days later on January 6th (the day we celebrate the Magi arriving to worship Jesus).
It turns out that nobody really knows how we ended up here. This article in the Lutheran Witness provides some excellent background information – but suffice it to say, there was just too much to celebrate in one day, so Christmas is 12 whole days of fun and celebrating!
HOW TO CELEBRATE THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN YOUR HOME
I have done a lot of research about traditional 12 days of Christmas celebrations and I really haven’t found any.
There is really no wrong way to celebrate Christmas in your home! Some of the favorite suggestions I’ve found are here:
- Spread out gift giving over all 12 days, not just Christmas morning
- Throw your holiday part during the 12 days of Christmas, instead of before the 25th
- Go to church as much as possible!
- Celebrate each individual feast that falls during the 12 days of Christmas (like the feast of Stephen and the feast of St. John, Remembrance of the Holy Innocents, etc..)
- Read Scripture every day (see reading plan below)
- Learn and sing the popular song The 12 Days of Christmas
Most importantly, celebrate our Lord as a family! The best way to bring the liturgical year to life in your home is to celebrate it as a family.
Days to remember during the 12 days of christmas
Here are important dates to remember during the 12 days of Christmas
December 25th- The birth of our Lord
December 26th- The Feast of Stephen
December 27th – The Feast of St. John
December 28th – Remembrance of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem
December 31st- Eve of the circumcision & name of Jesus
January 1st- The Circumcision & Name of Jesus
January 6th- The Epiphany of Our Lord
12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS BIBLE READING PLAN
To celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas in our home we do three things:
- Give a gift every day – we do not buy special gifts fo this, instead we spread out all of the Christmas gifts over 12 days. If we don’t have enough gifts I fill in with “coupons” for special activities like “stay in your jammies and watch cartoons all morning”, “go to the bookstore and choose a book”, “stay up late to watch a movie”, etc. You get the idea!
- Read Scripture every day – we read the Scripture that coordinates with the meaning of the 12 Days of Christmas song (see explanation of song above, Scripture reading plan below).
- Participate in a family activity – the activity is different every day. Some days it’s drink hot chocolate and watch a movie, it might be bake and decorate cookies, or even play board games. The possibilities are endless – see the list below for more ideas.
Here is the Bible Reading Plan we follow:
Day 1: Isaiah 53 – prophesy of Jesus
Day 2: Choose an Epistle to read – the second day represents The Old & New Testaments, the Law & Gospel, and the Epistle’s sum these up beautifully. Choose your favorite Epistle (or just one or two chapters) to read aloud.
Day 3: 1 Corinthians 13 – a beautiful depiction of love, the 3rd day of Christmas is faith hope and love; you might also read through The Nicene Creed for the 3rd day which could also represent the Trinity
Day 4: Choose a Gospel to read through (or part of one)- the 4th day of Christmas which represents The Four Gospels
Day 5: The Ten Commandments – the 5th day of Christmas represents The Torah or The Law, The Ten Commandments is a summary of this
Day 6: Genesis 1 – the six days of creation for the 6th day of Christmas
Day 7: 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 – the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
Day 8: The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) – the eight beatitudes represent the 8 maids-a-milking for the 8th day of Christmas
Day 9: Galations 5:16-26 – learn about the 9 fruit of the Holy Spirit for the 9th Day of Christmas
Day 10: The Ten Commandments – read the explanation of the Ten Commandments in Luther’s Small Catechism – the Ten Commandments represent the 10th day of Christmas
Day 11: Matthew 10- read the names of the Apostles and when Jesus sends them out – the 11th day of Christmas represents the 11 original apostles, less Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus Christ
Day 12: read through the Apostle’s Creed – the 12th day of Christmas represents the 12 points of faith in the Apostle’s Creed
FAMILY ACTIVITIES FOR THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
- open a new gift every day
- watch Christmas movies
- bake cookies
- sing hymns
- save decorating the Christmas tree for the 12 days of Christmas
- make gingerbread houses
- host a Christmas party
- make a special snack for each day
- go caroling with friends
- attend church as often as possible
- make special Christmas ornaments
- color a picture for each day
- volunteer in your community
- give gifts to friends and family
- make homemade gifts for friends and family
- take family Christmas photos
- send out Christmas cards
- decorate your house to celebrate
- read Christmas books
- do Christmas-themed arts & crafts
cELEBRATE THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
Remember, no matter what you do, the 12 days of Christmas should be a celebration! We are celebrating the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and that’s just too much to fit in one day!
How do you and your family honor the 12 Days of Christmas in your home?