What Are the Twelve Days of Christmas?

What Are the Twelve Days of Christmas?

Far from being over, the Christmas season has only just begun. 

In Catholicism, Christmas Day marks the first day of the Christmas season. The twelve days end on Epiphany, the 'Feast of the Kings' on which the three wise men arrived at the stable in Bethlehem.  For many Orthodox Christians, this- rather than December 25th - is the traditional day for exchanging gifts.

The roughly four weeks prior to Christmas are a time of reflection and preparation in my tradition. Advent, like Lent, is marked with purple vestments and altar cloths, symbolizing that this is a time of waiting. Now these have been replaced with the white cloths of celebration and feasting. 

As a child, of course, my attention was riveted on that one magical day. The build up was almost unbearable, and there was (though I didn't dare admit it then) a certain let-down after the frenzy had passed. Somehow the expectations were all too much, and the day popped like a balloon. 

As an adult, I've grown into the rhythm of this season: the preparation, and the slower tempo of celebration. There is no need to place so much expectation on a single day. We have twelve days to share with family and friends. If we didn't get together on Christmas Day, we have time after to celebrate together. There is time to drop cookies and baking to the neighbours we didn't have a chance to visit earlier.

Our tree and ornaments will all come down on January 6th, by which time we will be ready to move on to 'Ordinary Time'.  Each year, the Christmas season grows richer and more meaningful to me, and keeping the 12 days has been a large part of that.

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