What are the traditional 12 days of Christmas?
You've surely heard of them in the popular Christmas carol that's still stuck in your head since your Christmases as a child, but the 12 days of Christmas are first of all a festive Christian season. Celebrating the Nativity of Jesus, they represent the span of time - yes, 12 days! - that runs from Christmas through Epiphany. If you counted right, the 12 days will get you to January 5th, the date considered by the Church of England as the 'Twelfth Night'. Other countries, however, start their count from Boxing Day, which means their Twelfth Night will fall on January 6th, when Epiphany is traditionally celebrated.
What is Epiphany and why is it 12 days after Christmas?
Epiphany, sometimes also called 'Three Kings Day' is a Christian festivity that celebrates the visit of the Magi to Jesus. It's also a day in which Christians remember the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Why 12 days, you may still be asking yourself? Well, it is believed that 12 days is the time it took the Wise Men (or Three Kings) to travel to Bethlehem and recognise Jesus as the son of God. The word 'epiphany' means 'revelation', as God revealed himself incarnated as Jesus Christ. With their famous gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the Wise Men and therefore Epiphany mark the end of the Christmas celebrations.
Where did the 12 Days of Christmas song originate from?
The popular Christmas carol is of unsure genesis, although we're sure you've been signing it in your head this whole time. Some believe it to be of French origin and it was probably born as a children's memory and forfeit game. First published in England in 1780 as a chant or rhyme, it's actually the 1909 version by English composer Frederic Austin that gets associated the most with it. How does it relate to the 12 days of Christmas? Well, if you've never heard it, the carol is a 'cumulative song', meaning each verse is built on top of the previous verses, and it enumerates a series of gifts given on each of the 12 days of Christmas! Each of the twelve verses bears the gifts given on the previous ones, making the song a perfect memorisation game to be played on the 'Twelfth Night'.
When should I take down my Christmas Tree to fit in with Epiphany?
Okay, so you've arrived all the way here, learnt a bunch of new things to show off at the Christmas dinner, and now you're asking yourself 'What does this have to do with my Christmas tree?' Or perhaps you're here for that exact reason! There isn't really a specific day when you should take your Christmas decorations down, but there's some sort of superstition that survived from ancient times. Back then, people believed spirits lived in their home decorations and that taking them down would 'release' such spirits - they thought failure to do so would result in crop failures or other food-related issues! Many people in the UK tend to pick their Twelfth Night, January 5th, to do so, while other countries, as we've seen, will pick Epiphany day, which falls on January 6th. Both days mark the end of the Christmas season and so are perfect to take your Christmas tree down and maybe reflect on the year that passed and the one that'll be!