This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for January 3, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
Although most Americans and Brits seem to think Christmas begins in late November, it doesn’t. It begins on December 25 and lasts through the evening of January 5, — so dear readers, please know that it’s still Christmas!
Of course, Christmas has become so secularized in the 21st Century that some folks even forget the season had religious origins. The official date of the birth of Jesus was designated by the Church as December 25, marking the beginning of the Festival of Christmas, with the Coming of the Wise Men designating the end of the Festival (and the beginning of Epiphany). Christmas was a joyful celebration, thus each of the twelve days of the Festival were observed with special festivities, the royal families in Europe setting the traditions.
In England, until the Puritan Revolt, the royal family would celebrate lavishly during those twelve days of Christmas. Queen Elizabeth I, for example, would provide twelve nights of conviviality and merriment at the palace, each night something different and special, — a ballet, a masked ball, a play by Shakespeare, etc., for royals and nobles. Although religious ceremonies were part of the twelve days of observing Christmas, they took a back seat to fun, frolic, feasting, dancing, and other forms of merriment.
The English Puritans, filled with zeal for holiness and a passion for the truth of the Bible, were never happy with this secular emphasis by the royalty and nobility, and even by the “lower classes,” but had to tolerate it, at least until the Puritan Revolt. The Puritans were a pious group within the Church of England, who wanted to “purify” the Church, with the Queen (or King) considered the Head of the Church. Roman Catholicism was outlawed in England during the 17th and 18th Centuries, making it a treasonous crime to be a Catholic.
Many people still believe, in spite of proof to the contrary, that the famous Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” was a hidden proclamation of the outlawed Roman Catholic faith. Others believe it is just a delightful, nonsensical, secular Christmas song. Many commentators today call it “one of the most annoying Christmas carols ever written.” The first version of the carol appeared in 1780, and many more versions appeared since then, some even designating it as a proclamation of the Christian faith.
I agree with the scholars who reject the idea that the poem is filled with hidden Christian and/or Catholic religious symbols. For example, today, the Tenth Day of Christmas (January 3), the narrator in the song provides his true love with “10 Lords a Leaping.” Those who see symbols consider this to be a secret code for the 10 Commandments. Tomorrow, the Eleventh Day of Christmas (January 4) calls for “11 Pipers Piping,’ viewed as the eleven faithful Apostles. And the Twelfth Night of Christmas (January 5) calls for”12 Drummers Drumming,” seen by the symbolists as the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed. Most of the symbolic interpretation could be seen as Church of England doctrine as well as Roman Catholic, so how could it be a secret code? Men leaping, flutes piping, and drummers drumming, — three days of song and dance to end the week!
Without this rather “mysterious” song, whether nonsense or hidden symbols, I’m afraid most folks wouldn’t even think of observing twelve days of this important Christian Feast. Since Christmas decorations went up on Thanksgiving, and even on Halloween, some of the posts on Facebook are already saying, “Time to take the Christmas tree down.” No, don’t put it up in October in the first place! Today, we still have three more days to celebrate Christ’s birth. On January 1, we had five more days to celebrate and worship. The Wise Men haven’t arrived yet! They’re an important part of celebration and worship, — they were the first Gentiles to worship Jesus.
I have to confess, some of us are kind of lazy about taking down decorations, but this week we can self-righteously say, “There are still three more days of Christmas left!”
Ray Spitzenberger, a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor, has recently published a book, It Must Be the Noodles, on sale at www.amazon.com.