Sure, you’ve heard the song, but did you know that the “12 days of Christmas” actually start on Christmas Day (Dec. 25) and go until the day before Epiphany (Jan. 5)?
So, December 25 is the first day of Christmas. December 26 is the second day. And so on, until the twelfth day of Christmas on January 5, followed by the feast of the Epiphany on January 6!
When is Christmastide?
Christmastide is the liturgical season that spans from the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord (which we commonly call Christmas day, Dec. 25) to Epiphany Eve (Jan. 5, commonly called Twelfth Night—yes, like the Shakespeare play).
Here are the 12 days. Days in bold are the Holy Days (AKA Red-Letter Days) observed by the Anglican Church in North America
- The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Dec. 25, one of seven Principal Feasts)
- Stephen, Deacon and Martyr (Dec. 26)
- John, Apostle and Evangelist (Dec. 27)
- The Holy Innocents (Dec. 28)
- Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr, 1170 (Dec. 29)
- December 30
- John Wyclif, Priest and Translator of the Bible into English, 1394 (Dec. 31)
- The Circumcision and Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Jan. 1)
- Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah, Bishop in South India, Evangelist, 1945 (Jan. 2)
- January 3
- January 4
- Epiphany Eve (Jan. 5)
(Make sure to check out our Rookie Anglican Guide to Epiphany!)
A full twelve days of celebration, certain days within the season commemorate key events in the narrative of the Incarnation of Christ, such as:
- Childermas (or the Holy Innocents, Dec. 28), which recalls those infants murdered by Herod as he sought to kill Christ and
- the Feast of the Circumcision (or the Holy Name of Our Lord, Jan. 1), when Mary and Joseph presented Christ in the temple for naming, and ends on Epiphany Eve ().
Different traditions may celebrate additional feasts or remembrances within this season as well.
How did Christmastide Begin?
As early as 567 A.D., the church began formally setting aside the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany as both a sacred and festive season with Advent a special time of fasting in preparation of the feast.
The observation of a prolonged festive Christmas celebration continued through the middle ages and the early modern era, but, at least in America, has all but faded away in a blur of post-Christmas shopping, gift returning, and diet/exercise resolution planning.
How do we celebrate Christmastide?
First, celebrate! As Ashley Wallace says in A Thrill of Hope: Celebrating Advent at Home, “In the world in which we live, we are given no time to prepare for the birth of Our Lord and Savior and then no time to celebrate it once we get there.”
So, having prepared, let’s rejoice! Take time to enjoy the delights of the season.
- You may have to clock back into work on the 26th, but you can leave the Christmas decorations up for the season at home (or on your desk).
- Before you start planning to cut calories (or carbs or fat) for the New Year, enjoy the Christmas cookies your aunt made for you!
- Many cultures have treats unique to Christmastide, and this is a perfect time to explore those traditions.
- Continue giving gifts or doing acts of kindness and service for others; generosity doesn’t have to end at 11:59 pm December 25th.
- Additionally, many churches will include special services during Christmastide. This is a great opportunity to participate in the “story services” of the liturgical calendar. Personally, I’m looking forward to attending our first Epiphany service this year!
In short, take time to savor the season after all of the holiday-related busyness. Throw open the doors of hospitality to welcome in Our Savior and the stranger.
Collects for Christmastide
Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
The Collect for Christmas Day and any of the sets of proper lessons for Christmas Day serve for any weekdays between Holy Innocents’ Day and the First Sunday of Christmas
When Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, the next Sunday is the Second Sunday of Christmas or The Circumcision and Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Saint Stephen (Dec. 26)
O Glorious Lord, your servant Stephen looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors: Grant that in all our sufferings here upon earth we may love and forgive our enemies, looking steadfastly to Jesus Christ our Lord, who sits at your right hand and intercedes for us; and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Saint John the Evangelist (Dec. 27)
Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light; that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Holy Innocents (Dec. 28)
Almighty God, out of the mouths of children you manifest your truth, and by the death of the Holy Innocents at the hands of evil tyrants you show your strength in our weakness: We ask you to mortify all that is evil within us, and so strengthen us by your grace, that we may glorify your holy Name by the innocence of our lives and the constancy of our faith even unto death; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who died for us and now lives with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
The First Sunday of Christmas
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, kindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Circumcision and Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Jan. 1)
Almighty God, your blessed Son fulfilled the covenant of circumcision for our sake, and was given the Name that is above every name: Give us grace faithfully to bear his Name, and to worship him with pure hearts according to the New Covenant; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Second Sunday of Christmas
O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Other Christmastide Resources
- “What are the Twelve Days of Christmas?” by Greg Goebel
- “Restoring the Twelve Days of Christmas,” by Greg Goebel
- Twelve Tide: Celebrating a longer, less stressful, and more meaningful Christmas season. Learn more at 12tide.com!
- A Thrill of Hope: Celebrating Advent at Home, by Ashley Wallace
- Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006
- “Christmastide” (Wikipedia)
- “Twelve Days of Christmas” (Wikipedia)