Every year, we sing the song … or somebody does. Usually more than one somebody. The 12 Days of Christmas. It’s been done with humor, with dread seriousness, as a short, funny film. As a picture book. The Boston Pops does a brilliant and hilariously raucous version that bears little resemblance to the original song.
In all these years, hearing the song, playing the song on the piano and the organ, singing the song, humming it, pondering why or how anyone could give anyone a partridge in a pear tree and live to tell the tale … I mean, okay, five gold rings … but seven swans a-swimming? Did he include the pond? Did he have to do major construction to get those swans a-swimming for his lady-love?
And where on earth do you find leaping lords? You certainly can’t just go to Walmart and put them in your basket for checkout. At the very least, you’d have to get them to go along with your act and lords, especially around these parts, are hard to find. Maybe guys with the last name “Lord” would do? Hofstra had a President named “Lord” at the same time as Nassau County had a Parks Commissioner named “Moses.” It led to the unforgettable headline on the Hofstra Chronicle:
LORD AND MOSES CONFER OVER PROMISED LAND
At issue was a small parcel on the north side of Hempstead Turnpike which the university wanted to incorporate as part of its development of a new dormitory and library complex on the former Mitchell field, north of the Main Campus. This really happened and though I saved the copy of the paper, it has disappeared with the passing years. Pity about that. NOTE: For you history buffs, this is the airfield from which Lindbergh began his historic trans-Atlantic flight.
But I digress.
TAKE NOTES. THERE WILL BE SHORT QUIZ AT THE END OF THE LECTURE
This morning I woke up fully engulfed in a mental itch.
When are the twelve days of Christmas? It can’t be the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day because that’s always one week and will never change. Even if you add in Christmas Eve, that’s still only 8 days. What’s with the other four days and why doesn’t Google put them on the calendar? It puts on the birthdays of even the most obscure of my “Google +” connections. Surely (I know, don’t call me Shirley) this has got to be at least as important as some acquaintance I’ve never met having a birthday. You think, Probie?
But all was not lost. The calendar might not offer much help, but Google, the ubiquitous source of all miscellaneous information combined with — let’s not always see the same hands … you, there, in the back — right! Wikipedia! They had the answer and it only took me 0.77 seconds to get about 515,000,000 results. I only needed one result and don’t have time or enough interest in the subject to check out the other 514,999,999 answers.
Twelve Days of Christmas 2014 begin on
Thursday, December 25
and end on Monday, January 5
From Wikipedia. It’s the religious response, or at least a general overview thereof. Feel free to check out any of the other hundreds of thousands of available answers to this question:
The Twelve Days of Christmas is the festive Christian season, beginning on Christmas Day (25 December), that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God. This period is also known as Christmastide. This is different from the Octave of Christmas, which is the liturgical time from Christmas Day until the Solemnity of Mary on 1 January. The Twelfth Day of Christmas falls on 5 or 6 January depending which tradition is followed. There is similar confusion about the date of Twelfth Night which is commonly held to be 5 January but some hold that it is 6 January. The Feast of the Epiphany is on 6 January which celebrates the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus. In some traditions, the feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Day overlap.
In Medieval England, this period was continuous feasting and merrymaking, climaxing on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season. In Tudor England, Twelfth Night was permanently embedded in popular culture when William Shakespeare used it as the title of one of his most famous comedies.
Some traditions were adapted from the older pagan customs, including the Roman Saturnalia and the Germanic Yuletide. Christianity was, as all religions have been, opportunistic. If everyone was going to celebrate anyway, why not give the celebration Christian meaning? It’s no coincidence that every religion celebrates the solstices and equinoxes … or that the pagan Omer (celebrating the first cutting of the wheat) coincides with Passover on which Easter is overlaid. Nor should these overlays of later religions on earlier ones diminish the importance of the holidays. It’s hard enough to get a new religion going, to convert an entire population to a new way of thinking. Why not use whatever tools (and holidays) are handy?
ARCHAEOLOGY AND RELIGION
For a long time, whenever I drove down the old road from Jerusalem to Lachish, I noticed a piece of an arch pushing out of the ground. I could see there was a ruin there. I hoped the archaeologists would get to it so I could find out what it was.
One day, the diggers arrived.
It was a 5th century synagogue, complete with mosaic floor showing a mandala of 12 astrological symbols, the same ones we use today. The floor was taken, intact, to a museum in Tel Aviv. Digging recommenced and beneath the synagogue, pillar on pillar, stood a Roman temple. After rescuing whatever artifacts they could, the group began to dig again and found — pillar on pillar — a Greek temple.
Finally, below the Greek temple, on the base rock, was a Canaanite temple.
During each stage of the dig, we were allowed to go poke around the ruins. Israelis love archaeology. It’s was as much the national pastime in Israel as baseball is here. Everyone has a few artifacts … pottery shards, tiny oil lamps, Roman glass, old coins from vanished empires.
Human history and religion has never been the monolithic, simplistic structure many people — on both sides of the religious equation — would like it to be. If there is an omnipotent deity, it is not an old guy with a long beard counting your sins and weighing them against your good deeds. Or his son, nephew, or third cousin twice removed.
Whatever there is, it is unlikely to be something we can neatly classify. It is, as “they” say, complicated.