You may have heard about the Twelve Days of Christmas (especially since there’s that popular carol about them), but what are they and what do they mean?


The Twelve Days begin on December 25th, and end on January 5th. Traditionally, people celebrated with one feast each day, beginning with the Feast of the Nativity to celebrate the birth of Christ, and ending with the Feast of the Epiphany, to mark the arrival of the three wise men.


Christians who currently celebrate the Twelve Days have several contemporary traditions, including:

  • Giving gifts on each of the twelve days, representing a wish for a corresponding month of the new year
  • Feasting on traditional foods and celebrating the entire twelve days
  • Exchanging gifts on the first night and last night only
  • Lighting a candle for each day


If you thought the Twelve Days ended with Christmas, you’re not alone. It may seem odd today to keep celebrating after Christmas is over, and that’s largely due to commercialism and the change of tradition. After North American colonists brought their version of the Twelve Days to the New World, they were influenced by the introduction of secular traditions, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. These secular traditions included the idea of Santa Claus.


During the rise of commercialism, many business owners realized that people tried to have all of their gifts ready for the Twelve Days by the first day, the Feast of the Nativity. Commercial practice began to treat the 25th of December as the last day of the Christmas marketing season. It became the norm to purchase all gifts by the 25th, and the commercial calendar encourages the misconception that the Twelve Days end with Christmas.


The morning of the Epiphany, January 5th, is the traditional day in which all Christmas trees and other decorations are disposed. Surprisingly, there’s rhyme and reason to keeping your decorations out until after New Year’s.


The Twelve Days of Christmas have changed throughout time, and today, they are mainly commemorated by singing the popular carol that celebrates them.