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Scott P. Richert

Celebrate All Twelve Days of Christmas

By December 26, 2013

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Now that Christmas Day has passed, the presents have been opened, and the feast has been prepared (and eaten!), it's time to take down the Christmas tree, pack up the decorations, and start dreaming about next Christmas, right?

No! Christmas has only just begun. And while most of us may find it hard to sustain our celebration of Christmas all the way through until the traditional end of the season on February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (also known as Candlemas), we can easily celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, which end with the Solemnity of the Epiphany, on January 6.

In an important way, Epiphany completes the Christmas feast, because it is the day that we celebrate the fact that Christ came to bring salvation to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. That's why the Old Testament reading for Epiphany is Isaiah 60:1-6, which is a prophecy of Christ's birth and the submission of all nations to Him, and includes a specific prophecy of the Wise Men coming to pay homage to Christ. And the Gospel is Matthew 2:1-12, which is the story of the visit of the Wise Men, who represent the Gentiles.

In some countries, it is customary to give small gifts throughout the twelve days of Christmas. In our family, because we're usually visiting our relatives in another state on Christmas Day, our children open one small gift on each day of Christmas, and then, having returned home, we go to Mass on Epiphany, and open all of our presents that night (after a special dinner).

Of course, we keep the Christmas tree up the whole time, play Christmas music, and continue to wish friends and family a Merry Christmas. It's all a wonderful way to draw the joy of Christmas into the New Year--and to draw our children more fully into the beauties of the Catholic Faith.

(Looking for information on the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas"? You'll find it in What Are the Twelve Days of Christmas.)

More on the Christmas Season:

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Comments
December 27, 2010 at 11:48 pm
(1) Kate says:

I wish more Americans celebrated all the 12 days. I hate the
the idea of having to take everything down and move on so
soon after a month of preparation. The colonial Americans
kept all the 12 days. It wasn’t until relatively recently that
Americans ended it on the 25th.

December 29, 2010 at 2:55 pm
(2) Sheri says:

We’ve been celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas for over 30 years now. Keeping Advent as a preparation time and the Twelve Days as a celebration time makes our holiday much less stressful and more meaningful.

December 29, 2010 at 6:36 pm
(3) John says:

Our family has also celebrated the 12 days of Christmas for over 30 years. One of my wife’s favorite touches is to move the figures of the three magi around the house, and only on Epiphany do they “reach” the manger scene. The grandkids like to track the magi as they move from day to day.

January 4, 2011 at 3:32 pm
(4) Randy says:

We celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, right through the Epiphany. That is the true Christmas Season.
We do not take our decorations down until after January 6th.

I worked in Holland a few years ago and noticed they kept the Christmas decorations up through the end of January (including the Nativity scene). It was really nice to see.

Most Americans (and Radio Stations) follow the world of retail and end Christmas at midnight Dec 25th. It’s sad that they stop playing Christmas music in the middle of the Celebration. At the very least they should continue to play Christmas Music through January 1st.

December 28, 2011 at 1:12 am
(5) Diane says:

I have so enjoyed and appreciated the readings for Advent and have read each one each day as I lit the Advent candles. Are there any readings for the 12 days of Christmas?

December 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm
(6) steve kirk says:

Thanks for this important article. Most people seem not to realize Christmas is a SEASON. Celebrating all 12 days makes the holiday SEASON leisurely, relaxed, and meaningful. I send out the rest of my Christmas cards as they will arrive “on time” before January 6th. I feel compassion for all those who have been fooled into thinking Christmas is a “one day shopping event.” Well, time to start those remaining cards, turn on the candles in the windows, and bake those sugar cookies. Cook my hoppin john on Twelfth Night, January 5, rather than New Years Day when everyone wants quiet. Thus, the Christmas SEASON gets celebrated all 12 days!
Thanks again!

December 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm
(7) izabela k. says:

After all the running around and fixing up and decorating, people just end it. This point is when I want to hear the Christmas carols and truly enjoy the moment of Christmas. I had someone wish me a “Happy day after Christmas”. My response was just “Merry Christmas” because it is still Christmas. The fear is that we might (or have lost)Advent. The fear is also that we might (and again have lost) Christmas.

December 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm
(8) Andrew says:

I’ve always tried to keep the Christmas spirit going through the twelve days; our tree never comes down until Epiphany. As a music teacher, I love carols, but our commercial culture has worn them down by the 25th. I’ve thought of holding a Twelfth Night party one of these years to keep the seaon alive.

December 31, 2011 at 1:33 pm
(9) LEON-NOEL says:

I WAS PLEASANTLY SURPRISED WHEN I GOOGLED ABOUT CHRISTMAS TO FIND THAT I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO BELIEVES THAT WE ARE AMISS IN NOT CELEBRATING THE 12 DAY TIDE (AT LEAST). DOES ANYONE KNOW AN ONLINE RADIO STATION THAT CONTINUES THRU JAN. 6th ? I AM RETIRED AND UPON RETIREMENT I DETERMINED THAT I WOULD OBSERVE THE 12 DAYS. AS A SIDE NOTE, THE OBSERVANCE MAY TAKE SOME OF THE WIND OUT OF THE COMMERCIALISM. IF WE OBSERVE 3 KINGS DAY AS SOME DO IN MEXICO, WE COULD TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE AFTER XMAS SALES AND STILL NOT BE LATE ! ONE LAST NOTE. THE 12 DAY OBSERVANCE IS A NICE BRIDGE OVER INTO THE NEW YEAR ! MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR !!!!

December 31, 2011 at 3:41 pm
(10) caroline says:

I stopped decorating the Christmas tree during Advent for the past few years now. Its only after the last Sunday of Advent that we seriously start taking out the decorations from the storage and sorting everything out. Its sad many Christian families start decorating from November itself without understanding what Advent is about. Then i keep all the decorations at least until the 3rd week of January before i begin the task of sadly taking down all the decorations and the Nativity set.

January 3, 2012 at 1:49 pm
(11) Joe says:

As most I as my wife and children believe that Christmas is a season that begins actually on Christmas Eve and ends on the Epiphany. We do take down many of the items like the Christmas Tree and decorations after New Years Day more for us to understand it is time to move on. One thing we do keep up outside is a large Manger scene that is lite at night so all can see until after Epiphany is over. We try to simplify the meaning of Christmas by shedding all else but the Manger scene.

Just some other thoughts :)

December 29, 2012 at 10:26 am
(12) Mark Kolakowski says:

One of my friends among the Episcopalian clergy just told me that they have this saying about the season:

“Christmas isn’t over at bedtime on December 25.”

I’d never heard this before, but it’s spot-on and worth repeating. On Christmas night an elderly couple asked me to remove the decorations from their apartment door. I did so reluctantly, for this reason.

Indeed, regarding the derivation of the word Christmas, during Advent perhaps a decade ago, I chanced upon an Episcopal church with this upcoming event advertised on its outside sign: “Christ Mass” at midnight on December 25.

Perhaps RC parishes should consider re-branding Christmas midnight Mass similarly, as a way to bring home the meaning of the word Christmas. Just a thought.

December 30, 2012 at 9:50 am
(13) legal_tender says:

Ours have the longest Christmas season. For many, it begins as early as September, but we usually put up the tree and other decorations by middle of November (or a week after Halloween). I live in a predominantly Catholic country where Christmas is regarded as the most revered and celebrated occasion; hence, it is not unusual that Catholics here follow the official end of the Christmas season in accordance with the Catholic Church’s calendar.

January 1, 2013 at 12:54 am
(14) Erica says:

I always disliked the abrupt end to Christmas after all the anticipation. My grandmother who is Puerto Rican always spoke of Los Tres Reijes? (Three King’s Day) and I thought that was just a latino tradition. But upon reading the comments I see that others celebrate it too! :)

January 1, 2013 at 9:56 pm
(15) Patti Day says:

Hi Scott,

Listened to your excellent interview with Patrick on this very subject that re-aired today on Catholic Answers Live, Sirius 130. Have a Blessed New Year.

January 3, 2013 at 9:57 pm
(16) Samuel Kuhr says:

The actual end to the Christmas season, according to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, is the Baptism of the Lord. (Jan 13th this year)

I know a lot of people think it is the Epiphany, but take a look at the Bishops’ website and the litrugical calendar for this year.

Thanks for encouraging celebration through the whole Christmas Season.

January 5, 2013 at 10:29 am
(17) David says:

Thank you for posting this. I love Christmas and get very sad when traditionally everything to do with it ends at midnight, the start of the 26th of December.

December 26, 2013 at 8:14 am
(18) Jay says:

My family observes the twelve days of Christmas proudly. It makes sense to do so, knowing how solemn the season truly is for all.

December 29, 2013 at 1:26 pm
(19) Gatomon41 says:

Still got my tree, nativity scene and other displays up, and keep on spreading good cheer. Merry Christmas everyone ^_^

January 6, 2014 at 8:20 pm
(20) Selvan says:

Samuel Kuhr (post 16) is correct, the season of Christmas begins on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Sunday after January 6, which is Jan 12th this year….

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-resources/christmas/index.cfm

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