This is our annual reminder that the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day and end on the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6), which is also when the Three Magi arrive at the Creche, delivering their gifts.
So, why twelve days? There are probably several interesting answers: a day for each of the tribes of Israel, a day for each of the twelve apostles, a day for each of the months of the year. Mostly, there are just twelve days between December 25 and January 6. But what’s good about the Twelve Days is that when everyone else has decided Christmas is over–they’ve taken the ugly turquoise sweater or the two-sizes-too-large corduroy pants back to the stores, they’ve gotten sick of the Christmas ham and they’ve finished off the Christmas cookies, and they’re ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve and move on–we get to carry the Merry just a bit longer. We get to keep singing our carols of joy and goodwill. We get to practice joy.
That’s how we learn to celebrate Christmas well. Not just when everything is Merry and Bright, but in the bleak mid-Winter. Celebrating Christmas for the Twelve Days is a discipline of joy. When Scrooge has his revelation in A Christmas Carol he says, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” He understood that keeping Christmas well is an act of will. Honoring the event of God made flesh, of the God who did not have to be persuaded to want to be with us, who entered into human life so that we might be raised to divine life, who became human so that on every human face we might glimpse the face of Christ–that takes determination; it takes practice. Over the Twelve Days of Christmas, we get to habituate ourselves to kindness and gentleness and gratitude and merry-making, so that we are prepared to keep Christmas all the year long, so that our lives really become transformed by the glad tidings of Christmas!
So let us not waver in our duty to make merry, to sing our carols in our homes or wherever we may find ourselves, to seek out the unfortunate and needy, to offer cheer to all who need it, for in the fullness of time Christ was born and we have been found! Let us be like Scrooge: “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one!”