Twelve days of Christmas have begun

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, December 26, 2013

Contrary to much popular belief, the Twelve Days of Christmas are not the 12 days before Christmas. Actually, that term refers to the 12 days from Christmas to the Epiphany on Jan. 6.

The Twelve Days of Christmas begin on the day after the birth of the Baby Jesus and end on Jan. 6, the day the Magi – the Wise Men – arrived bringing gifts to the Christ Child.

In many churches, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day are spent in preparation for the coming of the birth of the Christ Child during the season of Advent.

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Following the birth of the Baby Jesus, the next 12 days are special days set aside to celebrate the birth of the Savoir of the World.

The Rev. Den Irwin, pastor at St. Martin Catholic Church in Troy, said in the Catholic church tradition the season of Christmas begins on Christmas Day. Prior to that, the church is celebrating Advent.

In the days following Christmas, particularly those 12 days of Chrsitmas, the church celebrates several significant events. The Sunday following the birth of the Christ Child is the Feast of the Holy Family, which honors Jesus’ parents.

“Jesus was born into a family established by Mary, Joseph and God,” Irwin said. “It is a time to think on the importance of a mother and a father in a family with Jesus.”

On Jan. 6, or the second Sunday after Christmas, the Catholic Church, as do many Protestant churches, celebrates Epiphany, which commemorates the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi or the Three Wise Men.

The Rev. Ed Shirley, pastor of Brundidge United Methodist Church, said the Wise Men are usually displayed in Nativity scenes during the Christmas season. However, the Wise Men did not arrive with gifts for the Christ Child until He was about two years old.

“We know that because the scriptures tell us that, after the Wise Men came and worshiped the Christ Child, they didn’t do as King Herod had instructed them – to go back and tell him so that he, too, might worship Jesus,” Shirley said. “In his anger, Herod had all male children in Bethlehem two years and older killed. So, we know that Jesus was around two years old when the Wise Men arrived.”

The arrival of the Wise Men has great significance in the Christmas story, the ministers said, as do the days leading up to their arrival.

The gifts of the Magi – gold, frankincense and myrrh – tell the story of the Christ Child.

The gold represented the King, which Jesus is; frankincense was burned to worship God and myrrh was the oil that was used to anoint the body of the deceased and the body of the one who would suffer and die for all mankind.

So, Christmas is not over, Shirley said. It has just begun.

The official “gifts” for the 12 Days of Christmas are:

• A Partridge in a Pear Tree – Jesus Christ

• Two Turtle Doves – The Old and New Testaments

• Three French Hens – The three virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity

• Four Calling/Collie Birds – Four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

• Five Golden Rings – First five books of the Old Testament

• Six Geese-a-Laying – Six days of creation before God’s rest on the seventh day

• Seven Swans-a-Swimming – Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit

• Eight Maids-a-Milking – Eight Beatitudes

• Nine Ladies Dancing – Nine fruits of the Holy Spirit

• Ten Lords-a-Leaping – Ten Commandments

• Eleven Pipers Piping – Eleven faithful disciples

• Twelve Drummers Drumming -Twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed