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Keeping the 12 Days of Christmas

Okay y’all, hang on to your britches. I have some news.  Despite what many retail outlets will have you believe, the Twelve Days of Christmas do not occur in the twelve days before Christmas, but in the twelve days following.

And these twelve days, well they are the actual Christmas Season as originally dedicated on the Christian Year Calendar. What comes before Christmas Day is the season of Advent, not Christmas.

Christmas runs from Christmas Day until January 5, which is also called Twelfth Night. January 6, is called Epiphany.

Epiphany is the day in which the arrival of the Magi (or Wise Men) is celebrated.. Their arrival marked the moment that Christ’s identity as the Son of God was revealed to non-Jewish persons, ergo it was a pretty big “epiphany”.

Back in the olden days of yore Christmas trees were not put up until Christmas Eve because the Christmas season did not begin until December 25.

The following twelve days leading to Epiphany, were then the time for all the merry making and party throwing and frolicking about in fancy clothes.

A large Twelfth Night party was often the end of the season, sometimes even with a reversal of rolls – the servants of the wealthy would be served by their employers and all would celebrate together.  January 6 was then the day when the tree came down and the decorations went back into storage – a tradition many (including our family) still hold on to.

Here are a few of my favorite ideas on how to celebrate this season in modern times!

Learn the Alternative Meanings for the Song

I have always loved the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song.

All those ladies in their party frocks dancing. A funny partridge in a funny pear tree (do partridges even like pears?). But I had no idea what any of it meant -if it meant anything at all.

A few years ago I stumbled across a children’s book that paired the twelve verses with twelve basics of Christianity. After digging around I learned that some people believe that the Twelve Days of Christmas was a way to teach children their religious catechism through symbolism and song.

Whether or not this story is true ancient history or modern folklore, the fact remains that you can easily pair each verse of this traditional Christmas tune with the most basic and fundamental Christian teachings, which can be a fun instructional tool for old and young alike.

The pairings go like this:

  • A partridge in a pear tree: Jesus
  • Two turtle doves: The Old and New Testaments
  • Three French hens: Faith, hope, and love
  • Four calling birds: The Four Gospels
  • Five gold rings: The Torah/Pentateuch, first five books of the Old Testament
  • Six geese a-laying: The six days of Creation
  • Seven swans a-swimming: Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
  • Eight maids a-milking: Eight Beatitudes
  • Nine ladies dancing: Nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
  • Ten lords a-leaping: The Ten Commandments
  • Eleven pipers piping: The eleven faithful apostles
  • Twelve drummers drumming: Twelve points of the Apostles Creed

If you want, see if each day you and your family can memorize the symbol and it’s meaning for each day, building as the week goes on.

If your family is of the competitive nature, you might even offer a prize for the person who can recite the song AND the meanings perfectly on Epiphany.

Throw a Twelfth Night Party

I love Twelfth Night and Epiphany so much that I even have a Pinterest Board dedicated to this celebration. The main ingredients needed for Twelfth Night Party are: Cake, Wassail, and Crowns for the party goers. Here is a simple how-to post on throwing your own celebration.

Collect Twelve Days of Christmas Goodies

Growing up my mother had a collection of these very same 12 Days of Christmas Drinking Glasses (you can find these on Etsy)  and over the past few years I have started collecting them as well.

I have been obsessed with these appetizer plates for years. There are also table cloths, ornaments, books, and a whole host of decor items in the twelve-days theme.

Do an Unconventional Countdown

Now, I know that a lot of people neither can nor want to continue the Christmas partying after the big day itself, but a lot of people – especially kids –  are home during the bulk of the twelve days.

If you are looking for a fun way to observe the 12 Days, but want something a little more unconventional and something that will help give a little bit of shape and purpose to your holiday break, I have made up a non-Christmasy themed 12 Days of Christmas Activity Printable just for you!

Simply print this out, stick on your refrigerator, and each day, beginning on either December 25 or 26 follow the activity prompts as listed. Who knows, following this list might even become a tradition for how to usher in the new year.

If you want to learn more about The Twelve Days of Christmas, the history and traditions I would recommend starting here and here.

Happy Christmas!

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Seana Turner

    My father started a tradition when I was in high school (I think) where we would light a candle each night, beginning on the 26th, and open a small gift. When I had children, this shifted to them and as a result, we all have a special affinity for the 12 Days of Christmas. I love this post, as most of this has been lost, with all of the activity now taking place beforehand. Our whole mindset has shifted, and it seems that the 26th is now the countdown to New Year’s Eve. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Fiona

    Thanks for the great ideas. I love your Pinterest board, and saw there the silver charms for pudding, I have some of those exact charms collected from Christmases in the 1970s here in Australia. My Gran put them in the puddings, along with sixpences, but I’m sure she planted them in each serve to make sure we all got one. I remember eating very gingerly to prevent accidentally eating one of the charms!
    I love the idea of celebrating the 12 days of Christmas, or at least continuing to read and think of the true meaning of Christmas intentionally following the 25th Dec.

  3. Jane

    I am Catholic and I always keep my decorations up until Epiphany Sunday, when we then do a special house blessing which we write over all the exterior door frames with blessed chalk. The churches stay decorated until February 2, which is the feast of the Presentation, when the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph presented the Infant to the priests in the temple.

  4. Lynne

    Thank you so much for sharing all your ideas! It’s so inspirational! Can I ask where you got the nativity scene (Mary, Joseph, and Jesus) that is pictured in the photo at the start of this article? I just love them!!

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