No Partridges Today

14 12 2012

treeThe Christmas season is upon us, as the advertisers would have us believe. The music is all over the radio, lights are all over town, and the usual old specials are all over the TV. However, this is not the Christmas season; not technically.

The reason I am saying this is that a co-worker today said that the Twelve Days of Christmas have started today, and she was wondering if there was something special she could do to make them more interesting for friends and family. Now, everyone knows the well known seasonal song of the same name, but I have to say I was truly surprised that an astounding number of people have no idea what they are or even when they are.

For one thing, the Twelve Days of Christmas do not start today. This is still Advent, the season before Christmas. Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which can be anytime from November 27 through December 3, and it can last from 22 to 28 days. This year it started on December 2, and will last 23 days through Christmas Eve.

The Twelve Days of Christmas START on Christmas, December 25, which is the first day, and lasts through January 5. When I informed my co-worker of this technicality, she was very surprised. I was not surprised that she was. We all know that the Christmas shopping season has been starting earlier and earlier every year, so the merchandisers can squeeze every nickel out of us. I am convinced that if it were somehow possible, the Christmas shopping season would start as soon as possible after the previous one.


“Twelfth Night” by David Tenier, c. 1634-40.

As a result of this, many Americans believe Christmas ends December 25, and the lights come down and the tree gets tossed to the curb as soon as possible. January 1 is the absolute latest for many, many people. Keeping the decorations up until January 5 is unimaginable to most. But it is still Christmas. Back in the Middle Ages, Christmastide, as the season is sometimes known, was celebrated with continuous feasting and merrymaking, which culminated on Twelfth Night, or Epiphany Eve.

January 6 is Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day in many cultures, and sometimes also referred to as Little Christmas. Epiphany is a season as well, lasting until the day before Ash Wednesday, which is known as Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, and many other names. The length of Epiphany varies from year to year, since the date of Ash Wednesday is directly connected with the date of Easter, which can be anytime from March 22 to April 25. So Epiphany starts on January 6 and lasts until anytime from February 3 to March 9. This coming year, 2013, Mardi Gras will be on February 12, which means Epiphany will be 38 days long.

So if you want to send your true love some partridges in pear trees, START on December 25 and keep going for eleven more days. Those are the Twelve Days of Christmas!  But take heed of the results, as depicted in this classic Pogo from 1971.




One response

2 01 2020
Brian H. Gill

😀 Thank you for writing & posting this. It’s good to see a discussion of Twelvetide and all that.

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