From today, it’s unofficially the 12 Days of Christmas which is the beginning of the countdown to the ‘Big Day’ for most people.
While many retailers and people will enjoy the next 12 days in the belief this is the tradition – it’s not!
Instead, the real 12 Days of Christmas starts on Christmas Day – a tradition that began in Europe in the Middle Ages – and it’s also known as Twelvetide which marks the festive season for celebrating the Nativity of Jesus Christ.
However, under Twelvetide, Christmas Day is the first of the 12 days with the last being held on 5 January, also known as the 12th night – and traditionally when your Christmas decorations are taken down. Though some believe that Christmas Day isn’t a day for celebrations or partying and their ’12 Days’ will begin on Boxing Day instead with the last day being the 6th of January.
Every day for 12 days, there’s a different meaning for people to celebrate and this what the days mean:
- Day 1:
Day one, as you would expect, is celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and it is Christmas Day, the first day of Twelvetide.
- Day 2:
In the UK, we celebrate Boxing Day also known as St Stephen’s Day and for those non-UK countries, it marks the day of St Stephen, a Christian martyr.
- Day 3:
The third day celebrates St John the Apostle who is the patron saint of royalty, authors and friendships and St John wrote the Book of Revelation.
- Day 4:
This is the feast of the Holy Innocents to remember the baby boys killed by King Herod when he was searching for the baby Jesus.
- Day 5:
The fifth day of Twelvetide marks the death of St Thomas Becket, who was Archbishop of Canterbury and was murdered on this day in 1170 when he challenged the King’s authority over the church.
- Day 6:
This is the day for celebrating St Egwin of Worcester, known as a protector of widows and orphans, who died in 717 on this day.
- Day 7:
The seventh day marks New Year’s Eve when Christians celebrate Pope Sylvester I and in some countries, today is also called Silvester.
- Day 8:
The eighth day celebrates Mary, the mother of Jesus.
- Day 9:
The ninth day sees the celebration of two fourth-century Christians, St Gregory Nazianzen and St Basil the Great.
- Day 10:
The 10th day marks the occasion of Jesus being named in the Jewish Temple.
- Day 11:
The 11th day celebrates the feast of St Simon Stylites who lived on top of a pillar for 37 years and also St Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint who lived in the 18th century.
- Day 12:
Today is also known as Epiphany Eve – with January 6 being Epiphany.
The 12 Days of Christmas
One reason why people believe that the 12 Days of Christmas start now and not on the 25th is perhaps down to the famous song and the growing trend for people to focus on getting ready for their Christmas break when all of their presents and food buying has been completed.
And if you can’t remember what your love gave you on the last day, then this part of the song may help:
Twelve drummers drumming
Eleven pipers piping
Ten lords a-leaping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight maids a-milking
Seven swans a-swimming
Six geese a-laying
Five gold rings
Four colly birds
Three French hens
Two turtle doves
…and a partridge in a pear tree!