Friday, January 4, 2019

Eleventh Day

How is it that the designation for the eleventh day of a holiday commemoration devised in the Middle Ages denotes a saint who not only didn't live back then, but came from a country never heard of in that time period? It all makes me wonder what the historic designation was for the Eleventh Day of Christmas, back when this was all created.

For now, in keeping with the tradition of holding a feast day in memory of a saint upon the date of that person's death, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton died on January 4, 1821. She wasn't, however, recognized as a saint until 1975, at which point she became the first native-born American to be designated as such.

Founder of the Sisters of Charity, the first American organization of religious sisters, Elizabeth Seton's legacy extended to orphanages, hospitals, and schools in the 1830s as far apart as Cincinnati, New Orleans and Saint Louis. Despite discovering this, I have yet to find any directions on how one was expected to celebrate this Eleventh Day of Christmas.

So, back in the days before Elizabeth Ann Seton became a saint, who was celebrated on the Eleventh Day of Christmas? According to one reference, that honor was previously bestowed upon Saint Simeon Stylites—although other reports say he is commemorated on January 5. Perhaps that's a good thing: after all, how would we celebrate a saint known for his extreme ascetic lifestyle?

I suspect, though, that many European households, at least closer to the time period in which the Twelve Days of Christmas were kept as a holiday season, were busily preparing, at this point, for the culmination of the Christmas season: the arrival of the Magi, or Three Kings from the east, to present their gifts to the Christ child on Epiphany—not to mention the energetic celebrations to be held the night preceding that, on Twelfth Night. While not many of our modern households may keep that tradition of the old holiday calendar, perhaps some family histories may contain a few reminders of that old custom of giving gifts, not on December 25, but on Epiphany, itself.

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