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Why there are 12 days of Christmas

The celebration of Jesus' nativity is just around the corner, and here we find ourselves smack in the middle of the 12 days of Christmas, December 13th-25th. Or do we? 

Some time back I was standing in the elevator at the hospital, reading a poster on the wall: “Celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas with great deals!” There were savings promised at the gift shop each of the first dozen days of December. According to the poster, December 1st-12th were the supposed 12 Days. Are they?

In fact, both of these interpretations of the 12 Days of Christmas miss the mark. The truth underscores the deep delight of this holiday.

Christmas is too glorious for just one day.

The ghost of Christmas passed

The “12 Days of Christmas” refer to the 12 days from December 25th through January 6th. Christmas Day is the beginning of a festival that carries on for nearly two weeks, up until the feast of Epiphany. “Christmas” isn’t just a day, in other words; it’s a season. 

Now, few in our society would dispute that there is such a thing as the “Christmas season,” but they might define it quite differently. This season would extend from, say, Thanksgiving until perhaps December 26th, when the radio stations drop their Christmas tunes like a hot coal in the stocking and go back to their regularly scheduled programming. 

But as the world gives up the ghost of Christmas passed, the Church is just getting started with her yuletide celebrations. She has waited and watched throughout Advent—which tends to just be lumped in with what author Gregory Jones calls "HalloThanksMas." She has refrained from singing her Gloria in Excelsis (“Glory to God in the highest!”) until she can sing it with the angels on Christmas Eve. Now, she’s ready to party.

Which gets at the deeper reason why there are 12 Days of Christmas. It's a fact of the calendar, yes, but it's more than that. 

Too much for one day

The real reason that Christmas is 12 days is that the feast is too glorious for just one day. As Elsa Chaney writes in her book, the suitably titled Twelve Days of Christmas, “So bright is the radiance of the Light which has come at Christmas, so awesome is the mystery we celebrate, that a single day's observance barely initiates us into the meaning of the feast.” 

There's a lot of joy to pack into this stocking.

And so I think it is high time that Christians reclaim the 12 Days. Too long have we allowed our celebrations to be co-opted by the culture’s “Christmas season.” Keeping the 12 Days is a path toward greater joy, greater festivity and, perhaps, even greater sanity. 

In one of my very first Inklings last year I suggested 10 ways to celebrate the 12 days.  But those are just the tip of the iceberg—or the top of the tree, you might say. So how else can we keep this 12-day feast? 

Sunday's sermon

On Sunday we had the pleasure of hearing guest preacher Rev. Peter Woodward, also known as my father-in-law. Check out his wonderful proclamation of Matthew 11:2-15 (with some a cappella singing, too!). 

Listen to Sunday's sermon

News & Notes

  • We were blessed this weekend to enjoy the Sunday School Advent program. The kids were remarkable. I'm grateful for all the hard work that Lynn Steben and all our incredible Sunday School teachers put in to get the kids ready, and to Harriet Rennie-Brown for organizing one of the best potlucks I've ever seen. Be sure to check out this clip of Sunday's program.  
  • We were hoping to do some Christmas caroling last night, but weather intervened. On the bright side, this weekend is looking quite pleasant. If you're interested, we'll meet at church at 4 p.m. on Sunday. We'll serenade neighbors throughout town, and then retire back to church for some cookies and hot cocoa. 
  • In case you missed it, the Manistee News Advocate had a nice little write-up about the benefit dinner last week. Thank you so much to everyone who generously donated—the total has now been pushed to over $8,000! Mrs. Shoults-Sullivan was in tears of thankfulness when she received the check. Way to show heart for Arcadia, TLC! 

From the Church Year

This Friday, December 20th, the Church Year commemorates Katharina von Bora, wife of Martin Luther. From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

"Katharina von Bora (1499-1552) was placed in a convent when still a child and became a nun in 1515. In April 1523 she and eight other nuns were rescued from the convent and brought to Wittenberg. There Martin Luther helped return some to their former homes and placed the rest in good families. Katharina and Martin were married on June 13, 1525. Their marriage was a happy one and blessed with six children. Katharina skillfully managed the Luther household, which always seemed to grow because of his generous hospitality. After Luther's death in 1546, Katharina remained in Wittenberg but lived much of the time in poverty. She died in an accident while traveling with her children to Torgau  in order to escape the plague."

"I will cling to my Lord Christ as a burr on a coat!"

– Katharina von Bora (aka Katie Luther)

Looking ahead to Sunday

The 4th Sunday in Advent
  • Readings
    • Old Testament lesson—Isaiah 7.10-14
    • Epistle lesson—Romans 1.1-7
    • Gospel—Matthew 1.18-25
  • Hymn of the Day—"The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came" (LSB 356)

+ Blessed Advent +

Pastor Tinetti

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