A cheeky title, but something I was reminded of the other day when I overheard somebody say that the, ’12 days of Christmas were just beginning!’ Obviously it’s easy for people who don’t follow a liturgical calendar or observe church seasons to know that that’s false, and the ’12 days’ are just not part of the general public consciousness anymore–people simply aren’t taught and don’t know that it’s the 12 days proceeding Christmas to which the song refers.
I remember when I was younger being totally taken up (what child isn’t?) with Christmas for the weeks and months leading up to it. Partly, no doubt, for the gifts but more than that for the actual magic of the whole season, which no other time in the normal calendar year seemed to partake of (Santa? The Magic of Christmas? See Letters from Nottingham for more). I remember, when the presents were opened, the house cleaned up, dinner made and eaten and toys sufficiently played with always remarking that, ‘well, it’s over,’ that the joy of Christmas somehow came to a screeching halt when the magic of the actual day had died down and anticipation met satisfaction.
As faith became an ever increasing part of my life I began to see the root of my actual excitement and the reason why we do all that we do at this time. The penitential seasons leading up to the greatest days of our calendar began to be incredibly fruitful times spiritually, and the days themselves took on new meaning. It is only in the last few years that I have begun to see the fruitfulness of those twelve days leading to Epiphany that bear with them so much.
Immediately following the Nativity on the 25th is the Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr. Stephen was an advocate for the poor and for that, the 26th -or ‘Boxing Day,’ as I know it- was traditionally a day in which people gave back to the poor, paid their dues to servants and those working for them, and in general saw to those who were less fortunate themselves. While the origins of the name ‘Boxing Day’ are seemingly a bit contentious, many agree that it likely goes back to the day in which churches would break open their ‘poor boxes’ to disperse the collections to the needy. We remember Stephen as both one who gave to the needy and who gave himself for Christ.
On the 27th is recognized St. John the Apostle & Evangelist. From a great website all should visit, ‘Tradition tells us that John was once given a cup of poisoned wine, but drank it with no ill effect. A chalice with a serpent signifying the powerless poison is one of his symbols. In spite of exile and attempts to
kill him, John lived to a great old age. In his last years it is said that he had to be carried to the assembly of the Church and, when he was asked to speak, he would say, simply, ‘My dear children, love one another.’
It is the custom to bless wine on St. John’s day, and to drink a toast to the love of God and to the saint.’
To be continued….