Tuesday, December 25, 2018
On the First Day of Christmas
American custom is such that we are all in a tizzy over the season by the time the actual day, December 25, gets here, but a long-standing tradition had those twelve days of Christmas fixed so that the sequence began on that very day. While we may be over with the merrymaking after the close of the day today, our ancestors may have just begun.
I was curious to see what the traditional holiday sequence of the twelve days of Christmas might have included. After all, for those of us with European roots, knowing that would bring us closer to understanding just how our ancestors celebrated the event. Of course, the phrase, "twelve days of Christmas" immediately brings to mind the carol by that title. Along with the long-winded ditty's many parodies—and even hoaxes—the custom of the twelve days itself has its explanations shared online, too, both lightweight and serious.
Terms like Boxing Day, or the Feast of the Innocents, have remained tucked away in the far reaches of my memory. I recall hearing such terms, and associating them with some fuzzy link to the Christmas season, but never thought to follow the trail back through my own generations to see if any of my ancestors might have held such traditions in our own family lines.
True to form as your Genealogical Guinea Pig, I thought I'd take this Christmas week to see what I could find, and hope you will join in on this lazy researcher's casual tour of the official names for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. While I am far from being equipped to report on what my kazillionth great grandfather might have been up to on the twelfth century rendition of the Feast of Saint Egwin, at least we can surmise what the Christmas season was like for those ancestors for whom we have at least a hazy picture of their life's ups and downs.
In the meantime, in whatever holiday traditions your family has handed down to you and yours, may you have a peaceful holiday season with those who mean the most to you.
Above: "Adoration of the Shepherds," oil on canvas by seventeenth century Dutch Golden Age artist, Gerard van Honthorst; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.