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Why Twelve Days of Christmas?

December 27, 2016
Why Twelve Days of Christmas?

This article was originally written on December 12 or 12-12 and at 12PM. It would have been great if the year was still 2012 – but I can say that when it was 12-12-12, we lived on 1212 Prindle Road in Charlotte Vermont. Pretty great.

Now, I want to talk about 12 for two reasons. One is that twelve is a huge number for human beings. 12 hours in a day, 12 months in a year, 12 signs in astrology, 12 apostles, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 knights of the round table, 12 Imams, 12 stars in the crown of Mary – and then – there are 12 days of Christmas.Which leads me to the other reason. We just launched the Martin & Sylvia “Twelve Days of Christmas” Audio Book.

winter spiral

So I’ve been thinking about twelve – especially these twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany – and wondering … why are there 12 days of Christmas? What is it about the number 12?

Well, as is often the case with religious traditions, there are many answers. One of the clearest answers has to do with Epiphany or Kings Day. In the Christian Church, this is the day that honors three big events: the arrival and gift-giving of the three Kings to the Christ Child; the baptism of Jesus; and the day in which Jesus turned water into wine. I find this very interesting because all three of those events have to do with community. They are all about a group of people coming together for a special event.

Christmas is about the birth of a baby – this is not a community event. But the arrival of the Kings – three strangers from a foreign land – is indeed a community event. A grand community. A baptism is the welcoming of one person into a group of believers. And Jesus turned the water into wine at a wedding. All groups of people coming together to celebrate.

winter spiral

So this became the answer for me – and the inspiration behind our “Twelve Days of Christmas” story. We start with the family – Martin, Sylvia, Momma and Daddy – and we move into the community. By the 12th day, the Browns, Andy and Laura, the Webers, Sophia and her mom and Julian and her dad – are all celebrating together. They bring their own stories, their own traditions, foods, activities, songs – and combine them into one big community festival.

The same is the case with the story-within-the-story, the “Twelve Tales of Tullyport Christmas”. Here we have a family – the Tully family – founding a town that is built on community support. The town welcomes all people from around the world and honors the difference – embraces it – by integrating their Christmas traditions. What results is a wild and wooly series of traditions, each given their own day in the twelve – which offers its residents a ‘world’ community embracing of Christmas. It transforms Christmas from a small, family, gift giving event into a community festival where we celebrate what it is to support and honor each other.

winter spiral

So – that addresses Epiphany – and yes, it is 12 days after Christmas.

But what of the actual 12 days? What is their purpose?

I’m not really sure, actually. There are many “feasts” or celebrations of saints on every one of those days but I personally didn’t find that narrative satisfying. Instead, I started looking at qualities. What twelve qualities help you move from an intimate, transformative day like Christmas into a community, fellowship day like Epiphany?

Well, it turns out there are plenty of “twelve virtues” out there. Aristotle has 12. The Catholic church has 12. Ben Franklin has 12 (or 13 – depends). They tend to rally around moderation, service, self sacrifice and true courage.

So that sounded right and we took that up. Each of the twelve days takes up a collection of virtues, or impulses, that help us authentically become a part of a community. In order to fully participate, one must be compassionately aware of the ‘other’ – and this is no small achievement. All over the world, people struggle with ‘otherness’ and resist forgiveness, reconciliation and brotherly love. Instead there is blame, labeling and revenge.

And that is how our twelve days took hold: a movement from the still, quiet, intimacy of family out to the wider community by way of generosity, courage, empathy, reflection, friendship, humor, honor, gratitude, fairness, beauty, restraint, and good cheer!

Now, all that being said, this is still Martin and Sylvia and the stories are told with gentleness. We don’t preach, profess or market – we just describe. The sweet family that lives in a tall house with lots of windows takes it from there.


Would you like to include these stories in your Christmas?

Listen to them on our streaming site or purchase them in our store.

May your Christmas season have plenty of gratitude, beauty, generosity and of course, good cheer!

About the Author

David Sewell McCann

Story Spinner

David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade – the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through painting, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf elementary class teacher and parent, he has developed a four step method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through this website.

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