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The Twelve Days after Christmas

December 24, 2012
This column is an excerpt from Kirk H. Neely’s new book
Santa Almost Got Caught: Stories for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year.

 

Is there anything as over as Christmas when it is over?

Colorful wrapping paper and bright ribbons are reduced to trash as quickly as gifts are torn open. Fresh green trees that have graced our homes for weeks begin to drop needles until they are discarded along city streets, waiting like fallen soldiers to be collected by the body wagon.  Even artificial trees are stored in plastic containers the size of coffins. Decorations are packed away in the basement, the attic, or the garage until next year.

Christmas is over!

In the week following Christmas, we may become preoccupied with returning and exchanging gifts, cleaning house, and paying bills. No wonder the days after Christmas mark a mood swing. The season to be jolly often dissolves into a time of exhaustion and despair.

The post-Christmas season can also be a time of blessed relief. For those who enjoy gardening, the mail carrier brings not only bills and tax forms, but also seed and plant catalogues.

The days between Christmas and New Year’s Day give us time for reflection on the year past and the year ahead. Opening a new calendar can be an opportunity to plan and organize by marking birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, and other special occasions. Stretching nonstop into the foreseeable future are bowl games for avid football fans.

December 26 is Boxing Day. It primarily observed throughout the United Kingdom and former Commonwealth countries. In Ireland it is called St Stephen Day. In the English tradition the day is a time offer presents to the people upon whose service we depend all year, those who deliver our newspaper and our mail, bag and carry groceries for us, clean our offices, and service our automobiles, just to name a few.

The twelve days of Christmas include Boxing Day and end on Epiphany, January 6.  These twelve days after Christmas provide an opportunity to extend the holidays.

The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is based on this season of gift-giving.  If we assume a partridge in a pear tree is given only on the first day and each of the other gifts are given only once, the monetary value in dollars at this writing would be about $20,000.

However, the song implies that the gifts given each day are repeated on each of the remaining eleven days. By January 6th, the recipient would have a total of twelve partridges and twelve pear trees.  By the twelfth day, the beloved would have received 376 gifts, including 184 birds. Then the cost at this writing would be about $75,000.

Some Christians believe that the song was actually a catechism in disguise, used by English Catholic parents to teach their children during the time of Puritan rule in Britain.

• The partridge in a pear tree represents the one true God.

• The two turtledoves are the Old and New Testament.

• The three French hens symbolize the Trinity.

• The four calling birds are the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

• Five golden rings are the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah.

• Six geese a-laying refer to the six days of creation.

• Seven swans a-swimming are the seven sacraments.

• Eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes.

• Nine ladies dancing are the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

• Ten lords a-leaping represent the Ten Commandments.

• Eleven pipers piping are the eleven faithful apostles.

• Twelve drummers drumming are the twelve doctrines in the Apostle’s Creed.

All trivia aside, the twelve days after Christmas can have a deeper meaning.

A young father, a member of the congregation I served in North Carolina, was stricken by leukemia and hospitalized for several weeks just before Christmas. Because Stan’s immune system was compromised, his physician would not permit his two small children to visit their father.

When I visited with Stan on Christmas Day, his disease was in remission. He was looking forward to being discharged from the hospital. “We’re going to have Christmas when I get home,” he said in anticipation.

Stan left the hospital two days later. He and his wife gave each child one present every day for the next week or so. Spreading out the gifts conserved Stan’s energy and enabled the family to extend Christmas into the New Year. Sadly, Stan died later that same year.

One year, in early December, Stan’s daughter, an adult by then with children of her own, spoke with me.  “I remember that Christmas, the last one with my daddy, as the best one ever. Instead of the whole thing suddenly being over as it usually is, Christmas seemed to last and last.”

The twelve days after Christmas need not be a season of despair. In the afterglow of Christmas, joy and peace can accompany us into the New Year.

Kirk H. Neely
© December 2011
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