As the winter holidays approach, do you look forward to the gifts you will receive? If your family celebrates Christmas, you probably can't wait for stacks of wrapped presents to appear under the Christmas tree.
Even if poultry isn't high on your wish list, you probably recognize those birds as gifts mentioned in the classic Christmas carol, "The 12 Days of Christmas." Could you imagine getting gifts like geese, milk maids, dancing ladies, leaping lords, piping pipers, or drumming drummers?
While five gold rings might please some people, the rest of the gifts mentioned in this popular Christmas song leave some people scratching their heads. Did anyone ever actually give their one true love such gifts? Probably not!
Historians believe the carol probably got its start in the late 18th century as a children's memory game. As each additional verse was added, children would have to remember all the gifts that came before. If you forgot one of the gifts you were out of the game.
Over time, the list of gifts became lyrics for the Christmas carol we know today. Although the list of gifts probably has no basis in fact, the idea of giving different gifts on the 12 days of Christmas was a tradition observed by many people long ago.
Today, many Christian people celebrate the season of Advent, which leads up to Christmas Day on December 25. After December 25, many people consider the Christmas season to be over, and they turn their focus to preparing for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
This was not the case many years ago. In the past, Christmas Day (celebrating the birth of Jesus) began the Christmas season, which would last for 12 days, ending with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the time when the wise men (known as the Magi) brought gifts to the baby Jesus.
In most traditions, the 12 days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day and run from December 25 to January 5. Some traditions, however, hold that the first day of Christmas is December 26 (the day after Christmas Day) and the 12 days run through January 6.
What is certain is that the 12 days of Christmas is not a countdown that begins on December 14, ending on Christmas Day. On the contrary, many people wrongly assume that is the case, since most modern traditions view Christmas Day as the end of the Christmas season.
The traditional observation of the 12 days of Christmas involves the celebration of particular saints on certain days. For example, December 26 is also known as St. Stephen's Day, celebrating Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr. Likewise, December 27 celebrates St. John the Apostle.