Christmas has 12 days. Why celebrate just the first one?
You have no doubt heard the famous carol The Twelve Days of Christmas; perhaps you’ve even heard the hilarious Irish spoof on it. But you know which days are the 12 days of Christmas or why there are 12 of them? Traditionally, Christmas begins on December 25th and continues until January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany, which in Ireland is also known as Little Christmas or Women’s Christmas.
While theories abound on the internet, the real reason we have 12 days of Christmas is because at the time Jesus was born, transport was pretty slow and unpredictable. Sure, no one had to wait ages in a line at security and answer a billion questions about a jar of marmalade in their carry-on bag or have their underwear tossed all over the place, but walking is not a fast way to get from point A to point B by today’s standards regardless of whether it a human, a donkey or even a leggy camel hoofing it along.
The Christmas season wraps on the 12th day because that is the day the three magi appeared in Bethlehem with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the baby Jesus. (And you can be very sure if had been three mothers bearing gifts, Mary might have had something more useful instead of being left to make due with some straw in the manger.)
The Grand Finale – Celebrate Your Mam
They say it isn’t over until the fat lady sings, and that is sort of how the 12 days of Christmas work in Ireland. Just don’t use that dirty F word in reference to your mother. January 6th is the day that traditionally the mothers of Ireland got a break after all the work they put into the previous 11 (oh, let’s get real, 364) days.
After the cleaning, cooking, shopping and making, more cooking, gift wrapping, and still more cleaning, the ladies took the day off and the men took over the cooking and cleaning. It was sort of a national girls’ night out, and in some areas it still endures – although these days very few lads are doing housework on just one measly day of the year.
Women’s Christmas, aka Little Christmas, was a day when children gave their mothers gifts. If you’ve had your own epiphany and realized your mother was perhaps underwhelmed by that Mrs. Claus apron, this is your chance to make it right. You could even pretend that this was the plan all along, to give her the real Christmas present on Women’s Christmas and just something small on Christmas Day. She’s your mom, so she’ll know you’re lying, but she’ll appreciate it in the circumstances and won’t give out too much to you.
If you celebrate all 12 days of Christmas, you also have an actual reason for having your wilting tree and Christmas lights up after New Year’s Eve. And obviously, no cards received by Epiphany are late!