VanHaren: Christmas really does last 12 days

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Roger VanHaren

When this column hits print, it will be the “Second Day of Christmas,” the second of 12, right? We’re all familiar with the irritatingly repetitious song of that name, but what do we know about the 12 days of Christmas? I did a little research, just for the fun of it, so here are a few things for you to think about, and some reminders about the song.

Dec. 25 – the first day of Christmas, celebrating the birth of Christ. (A partridge in a pear tree.)

Dec. 26 – the second day, also sometimes called Boxing Day (Two turtle doves). It’s celebrated in only a few countries, mainly ones historically connected to the U.K. (such as Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand). During the Middle Ages, it was the day when the alms box, collection boxes for the poor often kept in churches, were traditionally opened so that the contents could be distributed to poor people. Also, the Feast of St. Stephen, a martyr. “Good King Wencelaus went out on the Feast of Stephen.”

Dec. 27 – Day 3, the Feast of St. John the Apostle, one of Jesus’s Disciples and friends. (Three French hens)

Dec. 28 – Day 4, The Feast of the Holy Innocents. On this day, people remember the baby boys 2 years and under in the Bethlehem area who were put to death by King Herod when he was trying to find and kill the Baby Jesus. (Four calling birds)

Dec. 29 – Day 5, The Feast of St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. In the 12th century he was murdered on Dec. 29, 1170, for challenging the King’s authority over the Catholic Church. (Five golden rings)

Dec. 30 – Day 6, The Feast of St. Egwin of Worcester. Egwin was an English noble who became the bishop of Worcester, England, in 692. Charged with being overly strict by his clergy, Egwin went to Rome. Upon his return to England, he founded Eversham Monastery with the aid of the kingdom of Mercia. (Six geese a-laying)

Dec. 31 – Day 7: Pope Sylvester I is traditionally celebrated on this day. He was one of the earliest popes (in the fourth century). In many central and eastern European countries, New Year’s Eve is still sometimes called “Silvester.” In the U.K., New Year’s Eve was a traditional day for “games” and sporting competitions. Archery was very popular, and during the Middle Ages it was the law that it had to be practiced by all men between ages 17 and 60 on Sunday after church! This was so the King had lots of very good archers ready in case he needed to go to war! (Seven swans a-swimming)

Jan. 1 – Day 8: Traditionally celebrated as the Feast of Mary, mother of Jesus. (Eight maids a-milking)

Jan. 2 – Day 9, The Feasts of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, two important fourth-century Christians. (Nine ladies dancing)

Jan. 3 – Day 10, Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, commemorating when Jesus was officially “named” in the Jewish Temple. (Ten lords a-leaping)

Jan. 4 – Day 11, The Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint, who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. (In the past it was also celebrated as the feast of Saint Simeon Stylites, a Syrian ascetic monk who achieved notability for living 37 years on a small platform on top of a pillar near Aleppo! How weird is that?) (Eleven pipers piping)

Jan. 5 – The 12th Day of Christmas! Also known as Epiphany Eve, this is the Feast of St. John Neumann, who was the first bishop in America. He lived in the 19th century. (Twelve drummers drumming)

So there you have it, the 12 days of Christmas as they’re celebrated in Christian churches and in the famous song. And just in case you’re interested, here’s an accumulation of the “gifts” from “my true love”: 78 partridges and 78 pear trees (Think about it: one on the first day, one plus one on the second, two plus one on the third day, etc. They accumulate!), 128 turtle doves, 183 French hens, 180 calling birds, 180 golden rings, 168 geese a-laying, 152 swans a-swimming, 120 maids a-milking and their 120 cows, 89 ladies dancing, 30 lords a-leaping, 22 pipers piping, and 12 drummers drumming! Where would you put all that stuff and all those people? Think about the noise and the accumulated bird droppings and cow manure by the end of the cycle!

I saw an article on line that said that this is the 35th year that the “PNC Wealth Management Christmas Price Index” has done the math, and the total price for all 364 gifts in 2018 would be $39,094.93; a 1.2 percent increase over last year. Just in case you wanted to know!

Happy Twelve Days of Christmas!

Contact Roger VanHaren at