On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Twelve drummers drumming, Eleven pipers piping, Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing, Eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.
So, finally I have a suggestion as to the basis for the confusion as to when the Twelve Days of Christmas being. Most people agree you start counting from Christmas Day, but some folklore sources going back in time count from Boxing Day. For example Gervase Markham’s ‘The English Husbandman of 1635 counts it from Boxing Day.
The Daily Express reveals to me that the Protestants count from Christmas Day and the Catholics from Boxing Day. That maybe it, but is the confusion more complicated than that? The religious festival really makes sense if it begins with Christmas Day, and ends with the Epiphany, the day the Three Kings from the Orient come to worship Jesus. Also most festivals begin on the Eve, so why does Twelfth Night follow the Twelfth Day rather than precede it? Shouldn’t it be like Christmas Eve, Hallowe’en be called Twelfth Eve?
I suspect there is a fudge going on here. Twelve is the magic number, twelve Apostles, 12 months in the year, so twelve Days of Christmas. But clearly for Christians it stretches from Christmas Day to Epiphany. Two ways to square that 13 day difference. One is to begin the twelve days on Boxing Day, the other is to end with a Twelfth Night party on the Eve of Epiphany.
I don’t think I am alone in being confused. If you know any better let me know! Tomorrow I will look at Twelfth Night festivities.