The twelfth day of Christmas

The formal end of the winter holiday season is the feast day of Epiphany on January 6, at least for people familiar with a liturgical calendar. The day marks the day of Jesus’ physical manifestation to the people outside the Jewish community. The following scene depicts the visit of the magi:

Epiphany - fresco from 1408 by an unknown artist in the church of Tenna, Switzerland
Epiphany – fresco from 1408 by an unknown artist in the church of Tenna, Switzerland

Why are there twelve nights of Christmas? Is it not sufficient to have the holiday shopping season open the day after Halloween? Do we need another extension of the most wasteful and profitable period of consumer spending?

The twelve nights of Christmas seem to have been observed long before the Christmas season got corrupted. There are various traditions in the Eastern and Western Christian churches. Many of the variations point to a possible origin: The differences between calendars that are still in use today. The twelve days of Christmas marked the days beyond time when people still observed a moon calendar. A year with twelve lunar months has 354 days.  In a non-intercalary calendar system, there will be twelve nights (or eleven days) left between the regular calendar days in order to have the calendar correspond with the annual solar cycle. These days “beyond time” have a special meaning in many traditions and mythologies.

What a fabulous concept to have a period of twelve nights and eleven days outside of “chronos”, the measured time. What an opportunity each year, to break free from the slavery of having enough time we subject ourselves to. These twelve nights and eleven days could be used to remind ourselves of “kairos”, the alternate concept of time. It is about the recognition that if we take time to stop and listen, that we get to know about the right time, an occasion that some describe as relating the will of God. Instead of doing things fast, we can now learn to do things right!

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