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Scott P. Richert

The Twelve Days of Christmas . . . Haven't Started Yet!

By December 13, 2013

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Perhaps it's been going on my entire life, but I first noticed the phenomenon a few years ago. Starting on December 13 or 14, depending on how mathematically/calendrically challenged the particular blogger or business is, the countdown to Christmas begins: "On the First Day of Christmas [we put this on sale | I recapped the top stories of January | etc.]."A partridge in a pear tree. (Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Except, of course, that December 13 is the Feast of Saint Lucy and December 14 is the Feast of Saint John of the Cross, and neither day is the "First Day of Christmas," because they both fall in Advent.

The First Day of Christmas is . . . Christmas Day. Why is this so hard for people to grasp? No one, in his right mind or out of it, thinks that the First Day of Easter is Ash Wednesday or Palm Sunday or Good Friday. Everyone knows that Easter starts on . . . Easter Sunday.

So why do so many people have such a hard time understanding that the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day and run through the eve of Epiphany? Is it any wonder that we're all ready to take down the Christmas tree on Christmas Day, what with all the partridges, pear trees, golden rings, lords a-leaping, and maids a-milking which we've had foisted on us starting on December 13 or 14?

Here's a novel concept: Let's keep Christ in Christmas, and Advent in Advent. Let's celebrate all 12 days of Christmas—at their proper time. Let's light the Advent wreath now, pray our Saint Andrew Christmas Novena, spend some time with the Prophet Isaiah in our Advent Scripture readings, and genuinely prepare the way for the Lord to come into our souls.

And then, when Christmas comes, we can party like there's no tomorrow. Except there will be one. And another. And yet another.

For twelve whole days.

Now that sounds like a Christmas to remember.

P.S. Next time you see some blog or website refer to the 12 days before Christmas as the Twelve Days of Christmas, leave a comment and include a link to this post. We can win the War on Advent through some well-planned guerrilla action, one blog at a time.

P.P.S. Best wishes for a blessed Advent—and, when the time comes, a very merry Christmas.

(A partridge in a pear tree. Stockbyte/Getty Images)

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December 15, 2010 at 3:50 pm
(1) Sukhmandir Kaur says:

I’m with you Scott if you are going to celebrate understand and do it properly. I think I could relate much more to Christmas the way you have outlined it, otherwise it’s just a pagan bash with way too much stress and hype associated. Put the tree up after the kids have gone to bed Christmas eve. Leave it up for 12 days and then take it down perfect.

December 16, 2010 at 10:23 am
(2) Scott P. Richert says:

Thanks, Sukhmandir. I love celebrating Christmas—we open our main presents not on Christmas Day but on Epiphany, and so the entire Twelve Days of Christmas are a time of joy and feasting and reflection the meaning of Christ’s coming.

December 17, 2010 at 2:45 pm
(3) KiltedTim says:

I just stumbled across this, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I have to raise the question… What’s your source?

I believe, (though I don’t have a definitive source to cite handy) that the “12 days of Christmas” actually refers to the Pagan feast of Yule, which begins on the first day of the new year. The winter solstice was the beginning of the year on the pagan calendar.

December 17, 2010 at 3:32 pm
(4) Scott P. Richert says:

KiltedTim, I don’t find your comment “disrespectful,” just amusing. After all, you ask me for a source, yet you make a counterclaim and admit that you don’t have a source to back it up.

Christmas was originally celebrated as a compound feast, along with Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord, on January 6. From the fourth century, when Christmas began to be separated out from the other two feasts and celebrated on December 25, Christians marked the entire period between between December 25 and January 6 with feasting (in contrast to the fasting before Christmas).

In 566 or 567, the Second Council of Tours acknowledged the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany as an extension of the Christmas feast. Since that time, it has been observed universally throughout the Christian world.

December 18, 2010 at 4:09 pm
(5) Anita says:

Amen! Thank you for this wonderful article.

December 19, 2010 at 2:20 pm
(6) Martha says:

This has long been one of my pet peeves! I get so frustrated when people turn their lights on the day after Thanksgiving then turn them off either Christmas night or the night after Christmas.

My family (children) gets frustrated that I insist on waiting until the 3rd or 4th Sunday of Advent to set up our tree. I am trying to teach them the beauty of waiting and the gift of anticipation. the secular society certainly do not help me at all in this endeavor.

December 1, 2011 at 9:50 am
(7) India says:

I’m a year late to this discussion but I just wanted to say thank you to Scott for opening my eyes to Advent and having Christ in Christmas. I grew up Christian but Apostolic so we never celebrated Christmas or Easter. So now that I’m old enough, I’d like to do it but I don’t know how to keep it about Christ because I was never taught how he fit into the festivities. Those around me who celebrate are slaves to the “sale” and holiday shopping so I haven’t found any help there. So long story short, thank you again. I appreciate you getting the ball rolling for my research into Advent/Christmas.

December 12, 2011 at 10:37 pm
(8) Michelle says:

Scott, thank you for this article, I enjoy all your articles! But I am a little confused… regarding the 12th day falling on the day of the feast of the Epiphany, January 6… Starting count with December 25th, the first day of Christimas, the twelfth day of the count falls on January 5th, am I not getting something right? I will admit I am a Catholic that am still learning our beautiful tradion, please straighten me out (?)

December 24, 2011 at 8:34 pm
(9) Scott P. Richert says:

Michelle, I what I wrote may have unintentionally misled you: “the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day and run through the eve [emphasis added] of Epiphany?” The eve of Epiphany is the night before Epiphany, not the night of Epiphany. Now, it’s true that people do refer to Epiphany as “Twelfth Night,” but that reflects the older tradition of marking the beginning of a new day at sundown on the previous day. So even there, the use of “Twelfth Night” to refer to Epiphany is really pointing at the eve of Epiphany.

Hope this helps!

December 14, 2011 at 6:32 pm
(10) Sheryl says:

Here’s one talking about “of Christmas” but funny nontheless


December 16, 2011 at 12:10 pm
(11) Simantic says:

Scott, Please forgive my ignorance or confusion. I would like to know if the Lord was baptised or presented in the synagogue on the 6th day after His birth, or was He baptised on the sixth day after his birthday by John the Baptist when He was older? Did the Lord have two baptisms?
Thanks for the interesting facts regarding the Twelve Days of Christmas. I always thought it started on the 24th of December. That’s when my dad put the Christmas tree up with our help :)

December 24, 2011 at 8:45 pm
(12) Scott P. Richert says:

Christ was circumcised a week after His birth. He was presented in the temple on the 40th day after His birth, on the day we now call Candlemas (the Presentation of the Lord, February 2.) Christ did not have two baptisms; He was baptized by John the Baptist when He began His public ministry, though no date can be figured from the account in the Gospels.

Originally, Epiphany (January 6) encompassed four different celebrations: the Baptism of the Lord; Christ’s first miracle at the wedding at Cana; the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas); and the visit of the Wise Men. Over time, each of these was separated out into a different feast, with the Baptism of the Lord being celebrated on the octave (eighth day, or one week later) of Epiphany.

Traditionally, Catholics waited until Christmas Eve to put up the Christmas tree, as your dad did. In a sense, you could say that the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on Christmas Eve, to the extent that Christmas Eve anticipates the celebration of Christmas itself, the First Day of Christmas.

December 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm
(13) Michael Austin says:

Dear Scott:

Thank you for your words re. the 12 days of Christmas. I think focusing on the liturgical celebration from 12/25 through 1/6 is a very good idea.


December 17, 2011 at 1:09 am
(14) Ganu Ajay Madhukar says:

Your Grace
May Christ’s mercy be upon me for confusing the
advent with the twelve days of Christmas.
We are accustomed to thinking so mechanically
that we never seem to notice what we are actually doing.
When the time comes,wish you a Merry Christmas!

December 17, 2011 at 6:17 am
(15) gail says:

This is so true. This year my tree will remain up 12 days starting christmas. Thank you so much for that important information.

December 17, 2011 at 6:22 am
(16) gail says:

Thank you for such important information that I neglected to know about. Praise you Jesus. Merry christmas.

December 24, 2011 at 11:37 pm
(17) Sara214 says:
December 15, 2012 at 12:28 pm
(18) Julia says:

I found your article because I was listening to a Christmas carol and was curious to know about which day is the first day of Christmas. I have never known anyone to celebrate Christmas on January 6th. In fact, most people I know have already packed up and put away their Christmas decorations by January 6th because their tree has become a crusty looking fire hazzard. I’m not Catholic and haven’t heard much about the 12th day of Christmas in any church I’ve attended. But upon simply reading about it, I understood it quickly.

Based on other information in your article, I’m deducing that the celebration of the the 12th day of Christmas is primarily Catholic. In your article, you write (in a very sarcastic, condescending, and judgemental tone) “Why is this so hard to grasp?”

Maybe it’s because not everyone is Catholic. Is that too hard for you to grasp? – a little judgement right back at ya.

December 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm
(19) Theresa says:

Thanks for the important information on the 12 days of Christmas!
It is so easy to get caught up in the giving and getting and not remembering why we do it in the first place.
God Bless and Merry Christmas

December 22, 2012 at 11:25 am
(20) John Laws says:

Sarah’s link is very interesting, and I am eager to see an honest response. I am going to do some more research myself, but the information on that page is extremely interesting. After all, I certainly don’t want to be a Christian worshipping a pagan holiday! I honestly never asked these questions as Christmas was passed down as tradition from my Church and family. I am assuming that the arguments against the information in that article is that there are scriptures in the bible that shouldn’t be taken literally, but if indeed Christians at that time did take over a pagan holiday to gain more followers of Christ, I guess the question should be: what harm if any did it cause? I would hesitate to say that those Christians “lied” to people, but they certainly had to be creative with their descriptions and association of Christ with the sun gods – example the sun and the Light. I don’t know, a lot to think about, but only from a scholarly perspective. I try to be practical, and aside from commercialism, I want to know the true harm of worshipping Christ during the start of winter?

December 31, 2012 at 8:04 am
(21) Natalie says:

Love your description, my family hope to become more devout, we try, and looking at Christmas in a matter of fact way is refreshing, thank you

January 8, 2013 at 11:06 am
(22) Laura Sailer says:

I sought clarity as to whether the 12 days begin on the 25th or 26th. Some Brits insist on 26th with the 12th day being the 6th. Scholars bicker. Symbolism for Sundays in Advent also vary, but I go with (in order: hope, peace, joy, and Love) the basis for my Advent Salad in a ring shaped dish with ring candle holder (and, of course not lighting any candle before its day): 1: Greens e.g. spinach, arugula; seeds, e.g. sunflower; 2 olives; 3. dried cherries; no-vinegar dressing (sour cream, tangerine & lime juice & zest, dill weed, poppy & black sesame seeds) –vinegar being more appropriate to passiontide than anticipation of Jesus’ birth), and 4: hearts — of palm and/or artichoke, and cherry tomatoes (“love apples”) To enhance wreathlike appearance In include fresh cranberries and mozzerella “pearls.”

December 10, 2013 at 8:15 pm
(23) Horsetrader2009 says:

The reason why most people have a misunderstanding of the 12 days of Christmas is because they are thinking about something innocent like a countdown to Christmas.
It’s really not as bad as you’re making it out to be, but I understand your frustration.
Teaching can be long and arduous, but Patience is the only way that you will effectively be able to convey your message to people.
Have a Merry Christmas!

December 13, 2013 at 12:59 pm
(24) Joe says:

I was raised in New Orleans we always put our tree up on my birthday Dec. 6 but the Christmass celebrations started after midnight mass. We came home to a breakfast of sorts; croissant and other pastries, cheese, poached eggs and Yule Log. This is when we got to open our first present. On Jan. 6th we got our last present and King Cake.

December 13, 2013 at 3:31 pm
(25) Bart says:

And I don’t know this until I’m 46? Ay yi yi…

December 14, 2013 at 8:59 am
(26) Sandra says:

Posted on my FB page this morning. I am so very glad I am NOT the only one.
It is WORSE than the deletion of Advent in the experience of most. The time of joyful preparation is gone. Anticipation and the build up to the holiday (holy day?) of Christmas, is not there, and even the best of familial practices and religious culture cannot undo the influence of “popular culture.”

The Christmas Season HAS YET TO OCCUR! But, but! We now have the “Twelve Days to (last minute buy for the best bargains) Christmas!!!

Wrong! Those twelve days come AFTER, not before the day. There once was a time that most “holiday” stuff was scheduled between Christmas and New Year’s Day, or even the Epiphany, (Jan 6th).

Confusion brought on by marketing departments and the frenzy sale pitches reigns.

People brag about their trees and decorations up the day after Thanksgiving “so they can enjoy them.” Are also the first to shut off the seasonal music at 5 pm on December 25, and loudly tell people the wish them “Merry Christmas,” “The day is past” The 30 prolonged days of over hyped to get you to spend has worn them out. Just as “the day” arrives, they are spent.

No, this is one person that shuns misplaced emphasis and misused terms. I may not make a difference. Be seen as just another “eccentric old lady.”

December 14, 2013 at 2:13 pm
(27) Kirsten says:

Thank you for this! I have always kept my holiday spirit going through January 5, the true 12 days of Christmas. I’m just appalled that retailers (or whomever) advertising 12 days of Christmas specials for the days before Christmas can’t do a simple Google or Bing search and figure out that their assumption about the timing simply us not correct. So even before seeing this article, I’ve been on a mission to correct misinformation about the timing of the 12 days. Glad I can use this article (and others) as support.

December 14, 2013 at 3:25 pm
(28) Sis says:

I just left a post on a board about this very thing. I think it is 2 things – ignorance and marketing. It’s “fun” to have the countdown to Christmas, encouraging people to buy “12″ gifts. How much wiser would it be to begin buying during the 12 actual days of Christmas during the sales! LOL

For me, I like to celebrate Hanukkah, Advent, the 12 Days of Christmas and Epiphany! :)

December 20, 2013 at 2:43 pm
(29) Em says:

For as long as I remember I was raised christian but we always put our tree up Thanksgiving night and kept it up until Jan 6.. We did it that way cause that was when the WHOOOLE famiy was at our house with good food and conversation. It has been a family tradition for years and now at 28 I still do it with my own children and we go to church and praise the lord and do what was taught to us at birth and not according to the Hallmark holiday of it all.. Thank you for posting this it is a pet peeve of mine to see people forget what Christmas is about.

December 23, 2013 at 11:56 am
(30) Sean says:

I have mixed feelings about this. As a religious person, it may make sense to celebrate the Christmas season beginning on Christmas. But Christmas is also about the community–the time of year when we make it a point to care about those around us, those we know and those who are strangers. As Christmas day nears, I’ve often experienced a palpable atmosphere of good will. This atmosphere benefits, I think, from many people being out in the community shopping and preparing for Christmas. This is a valuable, rich social ritual. That its become associated with the Christmas season just seems to show that traditions (including religious rituals) are in service to “what makes sense” to the community that celebrates/utilizes them, not some musty liturgical calendar (that fetishizes calculation, perhaps not of market values, but of another sort). So if the traditional understanding of the twelve days of Christmas can be reactivated to become spiritually powerful, I’m on board with that. But let’s appreciate the goodness that comes from the holiday season (the season that starts with Thanksgiving and ends with New Years); it too is a powerful time of community building and of re-socializing what is too often non-(maybe even anti-) social economic activity. I think here we can turn to Dickens for the importance of the social aspects of Christmastime (which is not at all bereft of spirituality). Warm wished for (the fast-approaching) Christmas season.

December 25, 2013 at 5:46 pm
(31) Rita says:

As a child (I am now 66) Advent was considered “Little Lent” in that it was a time of expectation and spiritual preparation for Christmas. There were no Christmas parties during Advent — and, as my parents told us, you could not get married in the Catholic Church during Advent.
In 1942 my father was in the Air Force (Army Air Force in those days) and was on leave at Christmas time. He and my mother wanted to get married but could not because it was Advent. The earliest the priest would allow them to be married in the Catholic Church was the Saturday after Christmas, December 26th.
Christmas Eve marked the end of Advent and was a day of fast and abstinence. Christmas Eve dinner was always meatless. It was the day we put up the Christmas tree and the festivities started. Then nearly every day afterwards, right in January, there were parties and gatherings. We took the Christmas tree down around January 12th but I don’t remember the significance of that day.
My husband and I still put the Christmas tree up just a day or two before Christmas and it stays up until the Feast of the Three Kings.

December 26, 2013 at 10:25 am
(32) Christopher Walker says:

The “proper way to celebrate”… Really? If we were to do that, then we wouldn’t celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th. We may not know the exact date of His birth; but, it certainly isn’t anything close to December 25th.

As a result, your entire premise is meaningless. There are no “12 Days of Christmas”–So, there is no “proper” way to celebrate.

Why can’t we just celebrate the indescribable gift of Christ and not worry about when it is the “proper” time?

December 28, 2013 at 6:02 pm
(33) Rich Wolters says:

You are of course correct. However unless there is a way to technically find the exact definitive date of the Messiah, Yeshua Hamashiach’s birth, then there is no argument as to which date, any will do.

Perhaps we are arguing about holy days and holy festivals… the specific things the bible tells us not to fuss about…. but it is the individual that makes that heart decision for themselves.

I suppose it is obvious but the only place in the bible where it speaks of celebrating birthdays is in Job. Where they had gatherings and a small party for each of Job’s children on their “DAY”.

I think is great we celebrate the Messiah’s birth. Celebration of the Tradition is left up to you. Sometimes you can even make your own! We have freedom in Christ. Enjoy what he has won for us. Set free from sin. Forgiven forever. By his blood… WOW

Let No One Disqualify You
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to ia festival or ja new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but lthe substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, ogoing on in detail about visions,4 puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ tyou died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are aof no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh

December 28, 2013 at 11:33 pm
(34) bjb says:

Just a minor note on the twelve days. up until most recent days of 24 hour time keeping with clocks, it was obvious to everyone that the day ends when the sun goes down. The concept of “midnight” being the end of the day was nonsensical Therefore Christmas eve meant and as far as I’m concerned, still means, Christmas evening. The twelve days include Christmas eve and christmas day as the first day and the eleven days following up to epiphany. There is still a little confusion with the eve of Epiphany being refered to as “twelfth night” as it is not the twelfth night of Christmas but actually the 12th night AFTER Christmas, but who sayas everything has to be consistent. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. My family celebrates Advent before Christmas, the Christmas eve and Christmas day, and continue to consider it Christmas right up to Epiphany, leaving season’s greetings and decorations intact until then.

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