On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
Many of us have surely heard or have sung this well-known Christmas carol in our lives at one point or another during this special time of year.
The cumulative style of the lyrics and the catchy melody can easily encourage anyone to break into song, no matter their musical talents. (Let’s face it, with so many popular tunes available and such a festive mood felt during the Christmas season, we could expect to hear singing wherever we turn, regardless of whether it is American Idol quality or the opposite.)
Yet, while The Twelve Days of Christmas has become famous since its written introduction in the late 1700s, how well do we know the song’s significance and historical context?
Beyond that, how can we more fully appreciate and apply the spirit of the Christmas jingle (whose standard version dates back to a 1909 musical composition) when it comes to our daily living?
Recently, my wife and I presented our kids with an early Christmas present, aiming to reduce the potentially excessive stimulation they can feel when opening gifts on Christmas morning. (We’ve learned to stretch out their excitement during times like these, rather than experiencing an immediate and overwhelming rush of emotions that can sometimes come to a crashing halt and turn into an all-out meltdown.)
When informing my mom over the phone how much the kids loved their presents, she remarked how nice it was that we were carrying out the 12 days of Christmas.
Contrary to popular opinion, though, the joyful tune does not refer to the 12 days leading up to Christmas. The song actually describes the days beginning with the birth of Jesus or, according to some traditions, the day after.
Such a timeframe brings us to the day before, or day of, the Feast of the Epiphany, a Christian holy day celebrating the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ, presented to the Magi.
It is interesting to note the correlation of 12 to the same number of apostles chosen by Jesus, along with the 12 tribes of Israel attributed to the sons of Jacob, as detailed in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 27:12-13, for instance).
While Biblical scholars cannot necessarily find theological links to such presents as a partridge in a pear tree, Christians can certainly acknowledge God as our “true love”—the center of our being who gave the world His only Saving Son on that blessed first Christmas (John 3:16).
However, much like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or Thanksgiving, Christmas should not be only a one-day celebration, should it?
For example, God calls us to love, honor and value our parents for 365 days continually (Exodus 20:12), and we are encouraged to appreciate with gratitude our many blessings in life long after we eat a delicious turkey dinner surrounded by loved ones.
Similarly, while the birth of our Messiah is widely celebrated on December 25th of the Christian calendar, we should all experience and share the joy and peace of that day throughout the entire year.
Even with the difficulties 2020 has presented due to the worldwide coronavirus, as Christians, we are to live each day with a heart of service. Considering this, I can think of no better Christmas challenge for all of us than to live out the 12 days of Christmas with humble charity towards others.
This could possibly mean one act of service performed for someone on each of the 12 days. Or, maybe you’d like to up the ante, doing the same number of charitable works as the specific day in the time period.
. . . Imagine dropping off two turtle doves (or even just turtles, to be creative) to a neighbor needing special company over the Christmas holiday due to geographic distance from loved ones. What a surprise that would be for them. Can’t get your hands on turtle doves or turtles? (Not surprising!) What if your children drew special pictures of them to brighten your neighbor’s day?
. . . Preparing a meal for someone less fortunate could also definitely brighten his or her spirits. Applying the theme of fowl with a nice poultry dish and some vegetables—à la three French hens or six geese a-laying—would certainly show a gesture of welcome as unto Jesus (Matthew 25:31-40).
. . . If dancing, leaping in the air to music, or playing bagpipes or drums is not in our comfort zone, perhaps we can gather a small group of friends together (safely distanced, of course) to do some Christmas caroling outside a family’s front porch one night while holding candles.
. . . Additionally, dropping off some milk or milk dressed coffees to eight different homes in the neighborhood could be the perfect substitute for eight maids taking milk from cows.
As one can see, the possibilities for this endeavor can go as far as our imagination will take us.
So while we navigate through the adventure of a COVID Christmas this year, let us remember to live out the spirit of this holy season as long as we can, while respecting all social and physical distancing measures, health protocols, and program limitations.
Indeed, during this most blessed time of year, may we always remember the gift of our Savior is to be shared with everyone, not just for one day or even 12, but for all days.
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Matt Charbonneau is a high school Religion teacher who inspires his students to explore a deeper relationship with God. Applying uplifting lessons, engaging activities, and insightful experiences, he strives to demonstrate the powerful presence and unconditional love of God in everyday life. He obtained his Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Ottawa, specializing in French as a Second Language and Religious Education. He also holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from Carleton University (Ottawa) and has worked in sports media relations, radio, and TV broadcasting. A practicing Catholic-Christian, Matt and his wife live in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada), with their two sons and daughter.