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12 Days of Christmas
The Twelve Days of Christmas are the days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany (January 8th; the 12 days count from December 25th until January 8th). On the updated calendar — since Ephiphany is celebrated on a Sunday — these days may be more or less. We have 16 days on the tree because the Christmas season extends until the feast of the Baptism of Christ and we have decided to include them all.
The origin of the Twelve Days is complicated, and is related to differences in calendars, church traditions, and ways to observe this holy day in various cultures. In the Western church, Epiphany is traditionally celebrated as the time the three Wise Men or Magi arrived to present gifts to the young Jesus. In some cultures Epiphany is observed as Three Kings Day, or simply the Day of the Kings. Even though December 25th is celebrated as Christmas in these cultures, Epiphany is often the day for giving gifts. In some places it is traditional to give Christmas gifts for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Aside from the fact that Epiphany—which comes twelve days after Christmas—used to mark the end of the Christmas Season, the “Twelve Days of Christmas” are not really any part of Catholic liturgy. The song of that name actually derives from a time in England from 1558 to 1829 when it was illegal to be a Catholic, and so the song contains a hidden catechism of Catholic theology.
1st Day of Christmas - A Partridge in a Pear Tree
2nd Day of Christmas - Two Turtle Doves
The Old and New Testament
Opening Prayer from the Liturgy: “Lord, today we celebrate the entrance of Saint Stephen into eternal glory. He died praying for those who killed him. Help us to imitate his goodness and to love our enemies. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Scripture: Acts of the Apostles 6:8-10; 7:54-59; The Story of St. Stephen’s Martyrdom
3rd Day of the Christmas - Theological Virtues
of Faith, Hope and Charity(Love)
“[T]he theological virtues . . . adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature: for the theological virtues relate directly to God. They dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object.” (CCC 1812)
• “Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith ‘man freely commits his entire self to God.’ For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ Living faith ‘work[s] through charity.’” (CCC 1814)
• “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.’ ‘The Holy Spirit . . . he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.’” (CCC 1817)
• “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” (CCC 1822)
4th Day of the Christmas - Four Calling Birds
- The Four Gospels (Evangelists): Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
5th Day of the Christmas- Five Golden Rings
The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the “Pentateuch” Genesis - Exodus - Leviticus - Numbers - Deuteronomy
(General - Electric - Lights - Never - Die)
6th Day of the Christmas - Six Geese a-Laying
The Six Days of Creation
7th Day of the Christmas - Seven Swans a-Swimming
Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit and Seven Sacraments
“The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit . . . belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.” (CCC 1831)
8th Day of the Christmas - Eight Maids a-Milking
The Eight Beatitudes
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
3. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.
4. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
5. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
6. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
8. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
9th Day of the Christmas - Nine Ladies Dancing
The Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. Saint Paul (Galatians 5:22-23) listed nine of them; the later tradition of the Church lists twelve of them (CCC 1832).
10th Day of the Christmas - Ten Lords a-Leaping
The Ten Commandments
11th Day of the Christmas - Eleven Pipers Piping
The Eleven Faithful Apostles
“Before Pilate, Christ proclaims that he ‘has come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.’ . . . [Therefore,] in situations that require witness to the faith, the Christian must profess it without equivocation . . . . All Christians by the example of their lives and the witness of their word, wherever they live, have an obligation to manifest the new man which they have put on in Baptism and to reveal the power of the Holy Spirit by whom they were strengthened at Confirmation. Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death . . .” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2471–2473).
Accordingly, if a Christian were to die in a plane crash, that is not martyrdom. If a Christian were to die at the hands of a burglar, that is not martyrdom. If a Christian were to die in war, that is not martyrdom. But if a Christian were told—explicitly or implicitly—“Deny the Church,” and if the Christian were to reply—explicitly or implicitly—“No, I will not deny my Church!” and if he or she were to die because of that response, that is martyrdom.
12th Day of the Christmas - Twelve Drummers Drumming
The Twelve Points of Doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed
The Apostle’s Creed is an ancient baptismal symbol of the Church of Rome and is considered to be a true summary of the apostles’ faith. It is broken here into its twelve points of doctrine