Why are there twelve days of Christmas?
The answer comes from France, where the Christmas period could vary depending on the region and could stretch from the beginning of December to Candlemas. (Candlemas is also called Presentation Of The Lord, or Presentation Of Christ In The Temple. It occurs on February 2, and commemorates the occasion when the Virgin Mary, in obedience to Jewish law, went to the Temple in Jerusalem both to be purified 40 days after the birth of her son and to present Jesus to God as her firstborn. It is the source of our bizarre Groundhog Day, as witnessed by this old English song:)
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain,
Go, Winter, and come not again.
Two months; now thatís one heck of a celebration!
More often, the Christmas period meant the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6). Thatís the interval thatís celebrated in song. The French had many names for the period, depending on the region. The best known of these names is Noel.
Being the humbug that I so proudly am, I couldnít end this topic without including the fact that Chanukah is celebrated for eight days in commemoration of the miracle which occurred during the rededication, in 164 BC, of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, where a small supply of nondesecrated oil (enough for one day), burned for eight full days, until new oil could be obtained.
Kwanzaa, the African-American spiritual holiday invented in 1966, lasts for seven days, beginning on December 26. It is focused around the Nguzo Saba, or seven principles, geared to the social and spiritual needs of African-Americans. Seven principles, seven days; a splendid symmetry, eh?