The 12 Days of Christmas. Every year, much to Father’s extreme irritation, retailers throughout the country start the 12 days of Christmas on roughly the 12th of December. They’ve had over two thousand years to figure out which side of Christmas the 12 days are supposed to be on, yet they continue to disappoint. The easiest way to remember it is that the 12 days of Christmas occur between the Nativity proper and the Theophany (known in the West as the Epiphany). But let’s take a closer look at what goes on - beyond giving voluminous amounts of poultry (in pear trees and otherwise) to our loved ones.
During the midnight Divine Liturgy of the Nativity of Our Lord we begin with Psalms of glorification and praise in place of the usual 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Antiphons. We also replace the Trisagion Hymn with the baptismal verse from Galatians 3:27. The Epistle and Gospel reflect the Christmas story from St. Matthew, and we finish the Liturgy with a Nativity Feast, breaking the Fast for what some have called the “Winter Pascha.”
The 12 days of Christmas then begin, with the Synaxis of the Theotokos stretching over the next 2 days, with Nativity hymns combined with those of the Theotokos, as her willingness to bear God made the Incarnation possible. We also remember St. Stephen the Protomartyr during these two days. The Sunday following the Nativity, the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers we commemorate St. Joseph the Betrothed, St. David the King, and St. James, the Brother of Our Lord. On the eighth day after the Nativity, following Temple Jewish tradition, we celebrate the Circumcision of Our Lord.
Finally we come to the Theophany in which the Most Holy Trinity is revealed to the world through the Baptism of Christ by St. John the Forerunner, and which ends our Christmas season. It’s also at this time we celebrate the Great Blessing of the Waters, and between now and the start of the Great Lent, the priest comes to bless your home! During the 12 days of Christmas we greet one another festively, proclaiming, “Christ is Born!” to which we respond, “Glorify Him!”