From Boxing Day ’til Twelfth Night

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 24, 2003

For some people the holidays end as soon as the last of the eggnog is sipped, the presents

are all opened and the turkey or ham is tucked away in the tummy on Christmas Day.

There can be a distinct feeling of letdown come December 26 – is there nothing left other than fighting the crowds at the after-Christmas sales?

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The truth is, for many people around the world, December 25 is barely the beginning of their holiday festivities. Their &uot;12 Days of Christmas&uot; don’t precede Christmas; they follow it, continuing until January 6 and the feast of the Epiphany. Some people even regard Epiphany, which celebrates the coming of the Wise Men and the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles, as the real Christmas; others look upon the day as a sort of second Christmas.

There can be a great deal to appreciate, enjoy and reflect upon as we bid goodbye to the old year and welcome in the new in those twelve special days following the 25th of December…

The real twelve days of Christmas

Most people think the carol &uot;The Twelve Days of Christmas&uot; is simply a fun, secular song to sing during the holidays. But it was actually created as a spiritual teaching tool by the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

During a 250-year period stretching from the 16th to the 19th centuries, Catholics in England were prohibited from practicing their faith in public or private. Each phrase of the Jesuit carol had a special symbolism that went much deeper than the surface story of a couple courting at Christmas. The charming carol allowed the teachings of the church to be passed down to the new generations.

The ‘partridge in a pear tree’ was actually meant to be Jesus, and the ‘two turtledoves’ represented the Old and New Testaments. The ‘three French hens’ were the virtues of faith, hope and charity. ‘Four calling birds’ were the four Gospels, and the ‘five golden rings’ were the first five books of the Old Testament.

‘Six geese a-laying’ represented the six days of creation and ‘seven swans a-swimming’stood for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. ‘Eight maids a-milking’ represented the eight beautitudes, while the ‘nine ladies dancing’ were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.

‘Ten lords a-leaping’ were the Ten Commandments; the ‘eleven pipers piping’ were the eleven faithful apostles and the ‘twelve drummers drumming’ stood for the 12 points of the doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.

Boxing Day

The day after Christmas is more than simply an occasion to return unwanted gifts or stock up on discounted Christmas items (believe it or not).

Dec. 26 is the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. It’s also an official holiday in England, Australia and Canada known as &uot;Boxing Day&uot;.

The name of the holiday has nothing to do with the boxing ring, however.

Boxing Day earned its name because it was once a tradition to open church alms boxes (also known as &uot;poor boxes&uot;) each Dec. 26 so monies collected could be distributed among the needy. Servants also took boxes of food and gifts from their employer’s homes to their families on the day after Christmas.

Nowadays on Dec. 26, gifts are often shared with mail carriers, delivery persons or employees in the countries celebrating Boxing Day. Today, many people observe Boxing Day by attending special stage performances or sporting events.

It also serves as a time for taking stock of good fortune experienced in the past year, with thought given to the hopes, dreams and goals of the coming year.

Boxing Day could serve as a perfect time to begin a new tradition in your family, that of a family hope box.

Let each family member detail resolutions or prayers for the coming year on pieces of paper and place them in the box. On New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, the box can be opened and everyone can share their hopes and prayers with one another.

‘Little Christmas’

Dec. 28 is traditionally the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the young children killed by King Herod in his relentless search for the baby Messiah. The Victorians called the period &uot;Little Christmas&uot; and celebrated with festive children’s parties. Why not invite your friend’s kids over for a show-and-tell of their favorite gifts, followed by hot cocoa and Christmas cookies. It’s a great way to stretch the fun of the holidays out – and to get rid of those extra goodies you always seem to bake.

Take time over the next few days to encourage your children to write thank-you notes for their Christmas gifts. At bedtime, share the stories of some of the wonderful Christmas legends such as the stories of the Christmas rose, rosemary, Mary’s tree and Babushka. (A bit of research at the local library or on the Internet can provide plenty of information for you).

January 1

Happy New Year! Open your Family Hope Chest today and share your dreams!

Twelfth Night

January 6, Epiphany, celebrates the visit of the Wise Men. Also known as Twelfth Night, it was once a time of great feasting, music and dancing in celebration of Christ’s birth.

In many countries, it is still a time of family celebration, with each child receiving three small gifts (one for each king) before a gala dinner.

After dinner comes a Twelfth Night cake, or Galette de Rois (&uot;Cake of Kings&uot;) with figures of the kings and a silver coin, foil-wrapped bean or pea baked into it. The family member who finds the coin or bean becomes the king or queen for the day, complete with a gold cardboard crown.

The celebration of Twelfth Night certainly makes for wonderful family memories and serves as a great way to ring out the holiday season. You and your family might want to adopt some of these Epiphany customs as your own – or create your own Twelfth Night traditions. So, celebrate the season – the entire Christmas season.