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True Stories of the Twelve Days of Christmas

By Stephanie Malench, Reporter

The Twelve Days of Christmas is a popular song around the holidays, but it is about more than spoiling one’s true love with lavish gifts for days on end.

In Christianity, the 12 days of Christmas begin on December 25 celebrating the birth of Jesus and ends on January 5th the eve of the Epiphany. Epiphany  means “revelation” in Greek, and this is when the three wise men reached Bethlehem and realized that Jesus was the son of God. Each of the days in between is a feast day celebrating different saints or religious figures through time.

Day 1 (December 25): Christmas (mass of the birth of Jesus Christ).

Day 2 (December 26): St. Stephen’s Day (celebrating the first Christian martyr that died for his beliefs).

Day 3 (December 27):  Feast of St. John the Apostle (friend and disciple of Jesus).

Day 4 (December 28): Feast of the Holy Innocents (remembering the infant boys murdered in Bethlehem by King Herod the Great in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus).

Day 5 (December 29): St. Thomas Becket Day.

Day 6 (December 30):  St. Egwin of Worcester Day.

Day 7 (December 31): Pope Sylvester I Day.

Day 8 (January 1): Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God Celebration

Day 9 (January 2): Memorials of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen

Day 10 (January 3): Fest of the Holy Name of Jesus (when Jesus was officially named in the Jewish Temple).

Day 11(January 4): St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Day (the first American granted sainthood).

Day 12 (January 5): Memorial of St. John Neumann.

The Twelve Days of Christmas were at one time rumored to be a hidden code for Christians to remember basic tenants of their faith when they were not allowed to practice. Among the holes in the theory is that if Christians were restricted in practicing their faith, they would not be singing Christmas carols and the gifts do not serve as Christian equivalents.

The Twelve Days of Christmas of popular culture actually started as a cumulative verse poem (each patterned verse contributes to a longer narrative) that originated in France as an oral narrative but was not published until 1780 in the book Mirth Without Mischief. It was not written as a Christmas carol until the early 1900s by composer Frederic Austin.

Gifts have also changed through the years, with early ones including “bears a baiting or “ships a-sailing”.

The song is often made in to parodies, such as Jeff Foxworthy’s Redneck 12 Days of Christmas.

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