This post is written by Laura e. Crook as part of my Teach Me Something series. Since the first post was a tutorial, I wanted the second to be informational—more than a cocktail party fact, less than a full blown Wikipedia entry. When Laura went off on a Twitter tangent about the real story behind the 12 Days of Christmas, I knew I had my girl.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… the harsh truth that the first day of Christmas is actually December 25th, not the 14th.
Like a lot of things we take for granted, the twelve days of Christmas have their root in the Catholic Church. (Thanks a lot, God! Way to ruin Christmas by making it later, am I right? Well, yes and no.)
What we think of as the “Christmas” season (starting anywhere between November 1st and 25th, depending on how far department stores want to push it), is actually known as “Advent.” The four weeks leading up to Christmas Day are historically devoted to preparation and expectation of the arrival of the Christ Child. It’s a time for meditation and contemplation—all great things for the end of the year.
But back to Christmas! “So why twelve days? And what happens on the twelfth day?” Well, I don’t know why there are twelve days, and the real question isn’t what happens on the twelfth day, but the twelfth night? For that we’ll have to ask our buddy Shakespeare. (I’m kidding, but the play Twelfth Night does take it’s name from Epiphany Eve, which is January 5th, and the Twelfth day of Christmas.)
The twelfth day is Christmas’ last hurrah before the season of Epiphany starts on the 6th. (It’s also when people in New Orleans eat a cake with a tiny plastic baby baked in it, but hey, I’m not one to judge.)
“What’s so special about Epiphany?” you may ask (or not. I don’t care because I’m going to tell you anyway). Epiphany is when the church celebrates the arrival of the Magi! Also known as the Wise Men, they didn’t arrive until significantly after Jesus was born. We’re talking up to two years later. WHAT. I know. All those beautiful manger paintings are a lie. They also probably weren’t kings and we don’t know if there were three of them—we just say three because there were three gifts.
Also Santa is fictional, the dude he’s based on was Turkish and everything you ever thought you knew about Christmas is a lie.
But on the bright side it’s totally valid to wish people Merry Christmas well into the first week of January, and now you have a story to tell at parties if you want to sound like a pedantic religious nut.
And honestly, why wouldn’t you?