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The Twelve Days of Christmas

The twelve days of Christmas have traditionally been celebrated by Christian and Pagan alike. These are the days from December 26th to January 6th and often include the 24th and 25th of December, actually making the total fourteen. These days are actually believed to be a time when the veil between the worlds is lowered and you can easily see the dead. Supernatural experiences are likely to happen. Here are some of the ways in which you can remember these twelve special days.

Day 1 - Boxing Day, Day of the Wren

The name "boxing day" originated by the British custom of giving a Christmas box to servants on the 26th. The Day of the Wren has a bit more of a gruesome tone to it. The Irish and British believed it unlucky to kill a wren on any other day than on this one. The people would go out to hunt the wren and then display it's body for the villagers to see. The wren was believed to be the King of the birds. The French started this custom in a time when their kings were killed after only one year in service. The person who was first to kill a wren would become the king of the feast of fools.

Day 2 - Mother Night

The second day of Christmas is the day of Mother Christmas. She is often depicted as a woman in long flowing white gowns. She has been given various names, Frau Holle, Mother Carey, and Frau Gode are among a few of them. She is associated with the Mother Goddess who brings abundance, fertility, and justice. The Christians tried to replace her with the Virgin Mary and have almost succeeded.

Day 3 - Childremass

The third day of Christmas was believed to be an unlucky day in that no task that was begun on this day would ever be finished. It was also a curious day in that it was permissible to beat your children on this day. The idea was that if you beat them on this day they would not have to endure beatings for the rest of the year. They extended this idea further by allowing wives to beat their husbands or servants to beat their masters. Using fresh rosemary or birch branches they would exchange gentle blows with the idea that by doing this now, they would divert any real anger for the year to come.

Day 4 - The Feast of Fools

The fourth day of Christmas was a true day to let off steam. The restrictions of the Church were raised for the day and roles could be reversed. People acted out in abandoned ways. A King of Fools was chosen and he was to act as foolishly as possible, insulting and chasing women and girls and wearing outlandish clothing.

Day 5 - Bringing in the Boar

The Boar is the traditional fare for the Christmas table. It is viewed to be sacred to the Celts and most likely represents a much older tradition. The Scandinavians believed that the god of sunshine rode across the sky on a boar with golden spikes. The boars were extinct in Britain by the twelfth century but the tradition of passing the boar has continued until recently.

Day 6 - New Year's Eve, Hogmanay

This day is believed to have been celebrated by the Druids by cutting mistletoe and passing it out among their people. Mistletoe was believed to be sacred and the cutting was to acknowledge the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Another truly inspired tradition was practiced by the Scots. The people would gather branches of juniper and fresh water in the evening. The next morning drops of the water were sprinkled throughout the house and the then dried juniper was set on fire and used to fumigate every corner of the house in an act of acknowledging the new beginning.

Day 7 - New Year's Day, The Kalends of January

This is the day of the Wassail. Since Saxon times trees have been wassailed to ensure that evil spirits would not attack the orchards and the crops would be good for the coming year. The tree was wassailed by pouring cider on its roots and placing cake on its branches. Loud noises were then made and songs were sung. The wassailer would then go and collect alms and good wishes for the coming year.

Day 8 - Snow Day

There is no festival associated with this particular day. So we set today aside for appreciating snow. A story is told that midwinter snow is really feathers that have shaken free from Mother Christmas's bedspread. The snow brightens even the grayest of winter days.

Day 9 - Evergreen Day

Again, no festival is associated with this day. We set this day aside for the appreciation of the evergreen. The beauty of these plants is enjoyed year round and is especially necessary in the depths of winter.

Day 10 - Rock Day

This is the day when most would get back to their everyday lives and start working again. The women would have to start spinning cloth for their families. To make the day more fun than not, the young men would try to set the already spun cloth on fire while the women would throw buckets of water over the young men. This was also a day set aside for looking to the future and divining what the New Year could bring.

Day 11 - Eve of Epiphany

The religious connotations of this day are many. Although the number and identity of the magi who were believed to come in search of a child were unknown, their purpose was clear. This purpose is still carried out today in our own lives as we go forward looking for truth. This is a perfect day to look at our gifts both tangible and intangible, given and received.

Day 12 - Twelfth Night-Epiphany

This is the day where all of the festivities came to an end. The decorations were all taken down. If something was overlooked, it was believed that it would become a goblin. This day was celebrated with triumph and a cake was usually baked with a bean in it. The person lucky enough to find the bean in their piece of cake would then lead the celebration.

These are only a few traditions that celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas. Choose which work for you and enjoy.

The above ideas were adapted from The Winter Solstice - The Sacred Traditions of Christmas by John Matthews.

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