An early morning trip to the grocer on December 26th revealed a surprising discovery. All the Christmas decorations had been removed, and New Year’s Eve promotions were already prominently displayed. Apparently, Christmas 2021 was over. Hmmm, it must be time to turn our attention to the next holiday. Or is it?
Not so fast, Ebenezer.
Christmas is not a day but a season. Anyone familiar with the Christian liturgical calendar will recall that Christmastide begins at sunset on December 24th and lasts for 12 days. Hence the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Christmastide is a time to celebrate multiple events: Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s Day (the 26th), Feast of St. John the Apostle (the 27th), Feast of the Holy Innocents (the 28th), the Solemnity of Mary (January 1st), and the Feast of the Holy Family (date varies).
Sadly American consumers are so focused on the material that the spiritual is quite ignored. Christmas-related music stops on the 26th of December. Retailers start putting out New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day promotions. News media shifts its focus to end-of-year reflections. Christmas is but a weary memory as it quickly fades in the calendar’s rearview mirror. No wonder the Holidays have come to overshadow the Holy Days. Too much egg nog, not enough wonder.
Let’s be honest. Come January, do we find ourselves spiritually enriched from having celebrated Advent and Christmastide, or simply fearful of opening the next credit card statement?
The saddest thing about Christmas is that we don’t celebrate it long enough. Yes, Hallmark starts their Christmas movie marathon in October, and their G-rated, family-friendly fare promotes Yuletide feelings of love and joy. But they rarely touch on the true meaning of Christmas beyond vague references to family togetherness and serving others. Our Western culture “believes” in Santa but has brainwashed us to believe that once Santa’s job is done, so is Christmas. It’s as if Christmas is just about removing the ribbons and bows from the present only to admire the wrapping paper.
Ever wonder about the meaning behind the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas?” While historians debate the source of the song, Catholics embraced the song as a coded message celebrating Christmastide during times of religious oppression. There is, however, general agreement among Christians as to the symbolism of the lyrics.
- A partridge in a pear tree represents Jesus, the Son of God.
- Two turtledoves signify the Old and the New Testaments.
- Three French hens mean faith, hope, and love.
- Four calling birds stand for the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
- Five gold rings represent the Torah, also called the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Old Testament.
- Six geese-a-laying represent the six days of creation.
- Seven swans-a-swimming symbolize the seven spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit.
- Eight maids-a-milking speak of the Beatitudes, and Christ as Savior for all.
- Nine ladies dancing are the fruits of the spirit.
- Ten lords-a-leaping represent the Ten Commandments.
- Eleven pipers piping symbolize the twelve apostles, minus Judas.
- Twelve drummers drumming represent the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.
If there is no God, then let Santa have his day. Though some would argue there wouldn’t be a St. Nicholas without Christ and the Church. But, if there is a God and He indeed became flesh and dwelt among us, Christmastide is worth celebrating — all twelve days long. I have come to think that a true celebration of Christmas should involve equal amounts of greeting, giving, singing, praising, smiling, bowing, kneeling, prostrating, and praying, with frequent pauses of silent wonder.
I am not sure Twelve Days is sufficient time to fully respond to the significance of what we celebrate. A lifetime might be more appropriate.
So, by all means, enjoy the family time, the decorating, the caroling, the gift-giving, all your family traditions, and even a few Hallmark movies. But don’t allow the commercialism of Christmas to feed the Never-Enough mentality and distract us from the He is Enough spirituality.
Don’t get short-changed at Christmas. Stores may be changing their decor, and Hallmark movies may be changing their themes, but you can still celebrate Christmastide.
There is still time to be filled with the awe of Christmas.