The 12 days of Christmas

(Hunky model in his prominently bulging underwear, but otherwise not salacious.)

This Daily Jocks sale ad appeared yesterday (Christmas Eve), and for the first time in 12 days I actually attended to the ad copy (all the ads used old images from the company’s stock, so I’d skipped over them as sources for posting on this blog):



Get early access to our end of year sale 20% off storewide.

Shop 600+ products from over 20 brands, in all your favorite styles. From Jockstraps to Wrestling Suits you will be sure to find something you love.

This is our biggest sale of the year!

By DJ’s reckoning, December 23rd, the day before Christmas, was the 12th (and last) day of Christmas. Whoa! By (Western) Christian reckoning, January 5th, the day before Epiphany (the day with the Magi, or Wise Men), is the 12th day of Christmas (and today, Christmas Day, is the 1st). There are obviously two different schemes at work here, and the carol’s words give no clue as to which one it refers to; in particular, those words have no religious content at all.

I asked a young friend about the ad, and he found nothing notable in it. For him, Christmas in the song began in the middle of December and ended on Christmas Eve — and that made sense, because the song is about getting gifts from your true love, and the weeks before Christmas are gift-shopping time.

In the Christian liturgical year, the weeks before Christmas Day are Advent, then there’s a period leading up to Epiphany, when the Magi arrive with their gifts — so that‘s the gifting period.

The song. From Wikipedia:

(#2) partridge, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, golden rings, geese, swans, maids, ladies, lords, pipers, drummers

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” … is an English Christmas carol that enumerates in the manner of a cumulative song a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas (the twelve days that make up the Christmas season, starting with Christmas Day). The song, published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme, is thought to be French in origin. … The tunes of collected versions vary. The standard tune now associated with it is derived from a 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk melody by English composer Frederic Austin, who first introduced the familiar prolongation of the verse “five gold rings” (now often “five golden rings”).

More detail, from Wikipedia, on the location of the 12 days on the calendar:

The Twelve Days of Christmas, also known as Twelvetide, is a festive Christian season celebrating the Nativity of Jesus. In most Western ecclesiastical traditions, “Christmas Day” is considered the “First Day of Christmas” and the Twelve Days are 25 December – 5 January, inclusive.

… The traditions of the Twelve Days of Christmas have been nearly forgotten in the United States. Contributing factors include the popularity of the stories of Charles Dickens in nineteenth-century America, with their emphasis on generous giving; introduction of secular traditions in the 19th and 20th centuries, e. g., the American Santa Claus; and increase in the popularity of secular New Year’s Eve parties. Presently, the commercial practice treats the Solemnity of Christmas, 25 December, the first day of Christmas, as the last day of the “Christmas” marketing season, as the numerous “after-Christmas sales” that commence on 26 December demonstrate. The commercial calendar has encouraged an erroneous assumption that the Twelve Days end on Christmas Day and must therefore begin on 14 December.

Well, there’s religious Christmas and there’s secular Christmas, and they don’t have a lot to do with each other; having Christmas trees — not to mention Santa Claus figures — in church is a historical error, surely a graver one than thinking that the 12 Days begin on December 14th. So we should probably just say that the liturgical 12 Days end on January 5th, but the secular 12 Days end on December 24th.

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