I’ll just leave that there because well, it’s brilliant.
As I sit drinking a splendidly hot cup of tea made with one of a few extremely jealously guarded teabags I am feeling roundly comforted. Tea is an almost entirely reliable comfort for me, being “a panacea for all but stomach wounds” according to my grandfather Islwyn Ebenezer, and you can’t argue with a wartime army PE teacher. I am also greatly consoled by my recent discovery that the reason the twelve days of Christmas is a thing is that Christmas is actually twelve days long.
I think I’d always grown up listening to the song about birds, fruit trees and the privileged life of the wealthy, and hearing that you have to take down the decorations when the twelve days are up or you will have bad luck, but it seemed to be a vague extension of the time you were expected to exhibit the Christmas spirit (ie trying really hard to be nice to other family members) and not in any way linked to Christmas day.
After an aside from Tsh Oxenreider in her conversation with Jonathan Rogers on The Habit Podcast, in which she mentioned that Christmas is traditionally a twelve day long festival, the penny finally dropped for me. I know that I’m a slow processor (sometimes it takes me days to find out how I feel about something) but 30 plus years is still probably a record for me. The twelve days of Christmas epiphany has beaten even my Advent revelation, although only because Advent came round first.
It does now make sense that a nearly month long Advent would pave the way for a festival lasting longer than a day. Christmas being almost a fortnight’s worth of celebration is a much happier prospect. When I mentioned to my husband that I was really pleased to have discovered that Christmas is twelve days long, he said he thought that twelve hours was too much, which is perhaps a reflection on how fraught our day was, having both worn ourselves to the bone to try to make it a really special day for everybody.
This twelve days is a gift that gives me time to think about things more deeply. I realise that I can think about Jesus’ birth and what that means at any point in the year, just as I am not limited to thinking about the meaning of his death and resurrection only at Easter, but I still want to make the most of this time to pause and reflect.
I wrote about some of what I was learning about Advent here, with a list of resources I found helpful here. I posted a poem for Christmas day with some thoughts here and during these twelve days I hope to share some more of what I’m learning along with some helpful links.
This is the Art & Theology ‘Christmastide’ playlist of carols, hymns and spirituals, which may be very properly described as an eclectic mix since it includes gospel, newgrass, pop, folk and Broadway.
Continuing in the musical vein, I really enjoyed this recording of ‘Come let us adore Him’ by the wonderful Alice Watts, who is singing her way through the twelve days of Christmas on her YouTube channel.
The more I read, the more I discover how little I know – about anything really, but in this case specifically about the church calendar. Today I found out that the 27th of December is traditionally a day to remember John the gospel-writer and Jesus’ best bud.
I loved reading Malcolm Guite’s sonnet ‘John’. It is breathtakingly beautiful and every word sings for all its worth. I love being surprised by the power of poetry. This sonnet is deceptively simple whilst also being profound, much like the gospel message itself.
I’ve been really enjoying reading Malcolm Guite’s posts in which he shares excerpts from his book Waiting on the Word – A poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.
Another poet, pastor and writer of sonnets who I have come across recently is Rev James E Laurence who blogs at My Pastoral Ponderings.
He shares both his own thoughts and poems inspired by various Bible passages and also reflections on poetry written by other people, here with two poems by Madeleine L’Engle.
‘How poetry has deepened my reading of Scripture’ was eye-opening for me and I am beginning to appreciate how my understanding of the Bible really can be deepened and complemented by reading others’ responses to any given text.
I was really pleased to find that the Art & Theology posts didn’t stop with Advent and the latest article about a Hawaian Christmas song that went viral back in the day and the fresco of the Hawaian nativity is once again thought-provoking and horizon-expanding.
The characters in the Hawaian nativity are of different ethnicities and mixed ethnicity. It is a beautiful picture of the first coming of Christ which foreshadows His second coming, when He will gather to Himself “a great multitude that no-one [can] count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” as John describes in Revelation 7:9.
My daughter asked me today “O Natal já passou?” (Has Christmas passed by already?) and I told her that Christmas day has gone by, but we still get to celebrate Jesus’ birth. So, just as we live in the now and the not yet, I’m thankful that Christmas is both past and to be continued…