“In the hopeless time of sin, shadows deep had fallen. All the world lay under death. Eyes were closed in sleeping. But, when all seemed lost in night, came the sun whose golden light brings unending joy, brings the endless joy of our hope, highest hope, of our hope’s bright dawning, Son belov’d of heaven.”
~ From the ELW Hymn “Cold December Flies Away”
“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me: a partridge in a pear tree.” Thus begins a famous Christmas carol. We all know this tune even if we can’t keep our maids-a-milking and our lords-a-leaping straight. The carol refers to the twelve days of Christmas something that Americans know little about. And there is a good reason for this lack of knowledge.
When the Puritans came to America, they were trying to get away from the practices of the Church of England. The 12 days of Christmas were a huge celebration with something going on each day. It took on the feel of “secular revelry.” This was what the Puritans objected to, so much so that in early America celebrating Christmas at all was illegal. It was even illegal at times to take December 25 off from work or to celebrate the Lord’s birth in any outward way. This was because the name Christmas comes from Christ’s mass, which is the name for the day in Roman Catholicism.
It’s hard to believe but in Massachusetts Christmas didn’t become a legal holiday until 1856. Protestants in America had to fight the early laws of the Puritans to be able to celebrate Christmas at all. In this recovery, the 12 days of Christmas were mostly lost. And in the irony of it all, we now have a Christmas season that begins way before December 25 instead of extending beyond it.
As a church, the season of Christmas still extends the traditional twelve days. Christmas ends the evening of January 5 on the twelfth night. January 6 marks the celebration of Epiphany and is linked to the arrival of the magi to see the baby Jesus. The tradition of twelve days of Christmas has been lost for the most part. But it can offer us a chance to stay focused into the New Year.
We talk about the “reason for the season” but do we really know what that means? During Christmas we ask ourselves two basic questions: “Who is this that was born in Bethlehem and is headed toward death in Jerusalem?” “What does it mean that the Word became flesh to dwell among us?”
As you read this there will only be a couple days of Christmas left. Are you ready to move on? Has your Christmas spirit given way for a longing of having things back to normal? Or are you still pondering the mystery?
Merry Christmas until the twelfth night & Happy New Year,