Are the 12 Days of Christmas Before or After?

Here’s a perennial favorite.

We all know the number. We’ve all sung the song. But seriously, how many of us really every remember when the 12 days of Christmas actually are? Are they before? Are they after? Do they span? Does anyone really care?

The Twelve Days of Christmas are a bit of contemporarily counter-cultural classic Christian practice that invariably find their way into conversations over coffee or cake. The tradition of celebrating Christmas over the 12 days between December 25th and January 6th (yes, it is the 12 days after Christmas) has its roots deep within earliest Christianities and the tendency that the church had at that time to offer Christian alternative to popular pagan festivities as a way to make the truth of the Gospel easier to swallow. A two-week-long celebration of the coming of the Son of God was offered in the context of any of several European festivals that marked the both the growth in discernible light that follows the winter solstice and the  change of the year at the beginning of January.

In pre-modern times, the extended celebration of the Christmas feast offered opportunities for families to gather and old connections to be re-forged. Sadly, though, with the contemporary desire to lump Christmas together with Thanksgiving and the traditions of other faiths into an omnibus “Holiday Season” that spans the month of December, most folks are simply too tried and spent to carry on the party much past Christmas Day, let alone past New Year’s Day as well.

So, what is the faithful person to do? As one who has most frequently chosen to be curmudgeonly about the whole thing, I can tell you that trying to hold the 12 Days in their proper place is usually a losing battle. My wife and I have hosted more than our fair share of ill-attended Christmas Parties in the last week of December.

Neither, though, do I think it is advisable to  give too much ground to the Holiday Season craze by pretending that all the days following Thanksgiving can somehow be a part of the “Days of Christmas.” As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the waiting and expectation of Advent are important, no matter how you celebrate them.

So, I think its probably up to you and what you can get your family to sign-up for. Christmas is too important to be celebrated on a single day, so do what you can to keep it going for as many days as you can. Shoot for days after the 25th if you can. You’ll be glad you did. And you’l keep your neighbors guessing.


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