BY MELINDA WILLIAMS
Clipper Staff Writer
BOUNTIFUL – For many Americans, the Christmas hubbub starts in November and ends on Dec. 25.
Gifts are unwrapped and put away, wrappings are thrown away, and sometimes even the tree is removed in order to mark the end of the holiday.
That’s not how it was traditionally, and for many outside the United States, that’s not how it is today.
Traditionally, the four weeks before Christmas is the season of Advent, a time of anticipation with its own hymns and lessons.
Then, Christmas Day ushers in 12 days of celebration, ending with the feast of the Epiphany, the day the three wise men were supposed to have delivered their gifts to the baby Jesus.
“The tradition in the past was for people to put their decorations up on Christmas Eve, then exchange small gifts for 11 days and a nice gift on the 12th night, said the Rev. Donald Proctor, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bountiful.
“That makes the gifts go to the baby Jesus on the day the Magi arrived,” Proctor said.
Proctor and his wife Marjorie have frequently hosted a 12th Night party for parishioners and friends, and they will host a celebration this year as well.
“We try to downplay Christmas and follow the Advent readings, then celebrate from Christmas Day through Epiphany,” he said.
Epiphany was set by the church fathers of the third century, Proctor said, and until recently, “it was a lot bigger day than Christmas.”
Proctor said in Orthodox Christianity the emphasis remains on Jan. 6.
The “real” 12 days of Christmas are important because they give Christians a way of reflecting on what Jesus’ incarnation means, according to christianitytoday.com.
In the middle ages there were three feasts dedicated to a different part of the clergy during the 12 days.
On Epiphany the celebration of Christmas comes to an end.
“Twelfth Night is the ultimate celebration,” the website said.
For many, the only reference they know of the 12 days of Christmas is the song.
There’s a story which says that the song, was written as a “catechism,” to help young English Catholics learn their faith during the period of 1558 to 1829.
Many believe the story, while others say it’s nothing more than a children’s memory game, written in 1780 in England, with the music written earlier in France.
Those who believe the story is true explain that Roman Catholics living in England during a nearly three-century period in the middle ages were prohibited by law to practice their faith. In effect, it was illegal to be Catholic.
The story holds the song was written as a memory aid to help young Catholics learn their faith. Since the song sounded like rhyming nonsense, young Catholics could sing the song without fear of imprisonment. The authorities would not know its true purpose.
Others say the catechism was ecumenical in nature, so, if cornered, the Catholic could claim it to be a Protestant song.
According to tradition, the “true love” mention doesn’t refer to an earthly suitor, but to God Himself. The “me” who receives the gifts refers to each baptized person.