What are the Twelve Days of Christmas?


The Twelve Days of Christmas

The twelve days of Christmas, also called Christmastide, start on the evening of Christmas Day and end on the morning of Epiphany (January 6th).

The Feast of Epiphany appears to have been established very early in the Church with St. Clement of Alexandria mentioning its celebration on January 6th in the third century.

While the date of Christmas moved many times in the early Church, by the 300's all calendars in the Western Church marked the date as December 25th.

During the Middle Ages the twelve days of Christmas were considered a time for celebration culminating with Twelfth Night which became the subject of one of Shakespeare's plays.

In the United States it appears that the custom of making Christmas wreaths developed with the wreath being made on Christmas Day and then hung on the front door until Epiphany.

The various feasts celebrated during the Twelve Days of Christmas include:

  • Christmas (December 25th)
  • St. Stephen (December 26th) - celebrated in the UK as Boxing Day.
  • St. John the Evangelist (December 27th)
  • Holy Innocents (December 28th)
  • St. Thomas Beckett (December 29th)
  • Holy Family (December 30th)
  • St. Sylvester (December 31st)
  • Solemnity of Mary (January 1st) - formerly the Feast of the Circumcision
  • St. Basil (January 2nd)
  • Holy Name of Jesus (January 3rd)
  • St. Elizabeth Anne Seton (January 4th) - in the United States
  • St. John Neumann (January 5th) - in the United States
  • Epiphany (January 6th) - moved to the nearest Sunday in some countries

It is traditionally considered bad luck to take down your ornaments and tree after Epiphany but you can avoid any such problems by keeping your ornaments and tree up until the following Christmas. You may end up experiencing the Johnny Cash spoof "Burning Tree of Fire" if you do, though.


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