Why Do We Celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas?

December 28th, 2021 by Sara Buffington

My Christmas tree is a fire hazard.

I look at it and simultaneously have two thoughts: "Oh, you are so lovely with your twinkling lights," and "Please don't kill us all."

Christmas tree

I suppose that is what I get for buying a live tree right after Thanksgiving. My children picked it out, and when I pointed out the brown bits on a branch, they carelessly brushed my concerns aside.

I asked the tree lot manager, "Is this tree dying?"

"Lady," he replied brusquely, "this tree's been dying since it was cut."

I was not appeased. And then he said the magic words, "But I'll give you 50% off."

And that is how we brought home our deal-of-the-century fire starter.

Why do we celebrate the 12 days of Christmas?

Christmas Countdown

My mother has been warning me of the danger of Christmas trees for years, but I only paid half attention. "Never leave the lights on your tree and then leave the house," she'd tell me, "It could burn the house down."

Then a couple of years ago we missed the mysterious "tree collection days" offered by the county. The tree sat on the side of our house for months. 

One night we were short on kindling for the outdoor fire and my husband said, "Let's try the old tree!"

It was a flaming hot 10-second bonfire. 

fire

Now I look at my tree and I see the countdown to Christmas. As in, how many days can I safely leave this thing in my house?

What Are the Twelve Days of Christmas

I grew up in a Baptist church, which means Christmas starts after Thanksgiving and ends in glorious fanfare and scraps of wrapping paper on December 25th. 

I had heard of the 12 Days of Christmas from the song. As a child, I thought it was a weird song and an odd assortment of gifts.  As an adult, I think the same.

The song emerged as a children's memory game in 18th century Britain. If you missed a verse, you had to pay a penalty (like give the other kids a piece of your candle).

The 12 Days of Christmas are much older than the song. Why do we celebrate the twelve days of Christmas? They are part of the season called "Christmastide" and many of the days have significance.

nativity

December 25 - Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

December 26 - Martyrdom of St. Stephen

December 27 - Feast Day of John the Apostle

December 28 - Holy Innocents Day (when we remember the baby boys slaughtered by King Herod)

December 29 - Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury

January 1 - Circumcision and Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ

January 5 - Epiphany Eve

Christmastide ends on January 6, Epiphany, otherwise known as the Day of the Three Kings.

How Long Is the Christmas Season?

Our culture will tell you Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving and ends on December 25. There is nothing wrong with that.

My son Levi positively refuses to listen to Christmas songs until after Thanksgiving. This year my daughter chased him around the yard singing carols on the week of Thanksgiving. It was hilarious.

On December 26, the stores mark down Christmas decor and treats. They trot out the New Year's hats and candles and confetti and fireworks. That, too, is on discount in a week. 

By January 2, it's full Valentine's mode.

new years

Celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas

This year, December was a blur.  

It felt a bit like a mad rush to Christmas. Where was the silence? The contemplation? The feeling of drawing near to Jesus in Advent? 

For me, I felt like I was going  70 mph on the 417 and Advent was a series of billboards that I was going too fast to read. 

Everyone kept saying, "Slow down. Take a moment." But when you work at a church, go on a road trip in December, and are the mom in a family, those moments of silence are few and far between.

Do you want to know my thought on December 26th? (Please don't think less of me.)

"I made it."

Dinners were cooked and presents were wrapped. Carols were sung and slides were done. Kids were happy and my Christmas tree was still, miraculously, clinging to a few of its needles.

How Do We Celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas?

As I write this, it is the evening of December 27th. It is a Monday. We are having leftovers, and today we all watched way too much TV and played too long on the computer (yeah, okay, I got some work done too). I stayed in my pajamas till noon.

Finally...rest.

I could bemoan the fact that I missed the opportunity of Advent. I could berate myself for focusing on all the events and obligations, or I could look forward.

I am looking forward to Christmastide.

These 12 Days of Christmas, I am going to slow down. I am going to spend time in the quiet. I am going to invite God into those spaces.

pile of rocks

I am not saying that God only speaks in the quiet, but for me, a time of contemplation is usually when he refreshes and prepares me for what's next.

These 12 Days of Christmas, I am going to restrain my Martha tendencies and "do as little as possible." I am getting off the freeway of my schedule as much as I can.

Do you want to join me in celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas? It doesn't diminish the 25th; it extends it. 

Christmas doesn't have to be a burst of activity like flash paper or a Christmas tree bonfire, it can be the slow steady burn of a Cinnamon Apple Yankee Candle jar (yep, my favorite scent of the season).

Christmas can be relished in Christmastide.  It can be savored. It can linger in the quiet as a flame of joy.

Christmas can be relished in Christmastide. It can be savored. It can linger in the quiet as a flame of joy.

Should I Leave my Christmas Tree Up for 12 Days?

When I brush a branch of my Christmas tree, pine needles float to the ground like snowflakes.  Like I said, the tree is a fire hazard.

I don't think I can leave my tree up for the 12 days of Christmas, as much as I would like to. Those of you who have artificial trees, I envy you your tree longevity. 

tree

But I can leave up my Nativity set. Mary and Joseph can look lovingly on baby Jesus for the full duration of 12 days.

Christmastide gives me the opportunity to do that, too.

Do you celebrate Christmastide? How could you slow down for 12 days this season? Let me know in the comments below.

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About this author:

Sara Buffington

Sara Buffington

In April 2013 Sara started leading worship at New Covenant, and she considers it a joy and a privilege. She lives with her husband Peter, their three children, and Poppy the dog.

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