Still celebrating the 12 days of Christmas
by Juanita Hughes
Columnist
December 26, 2012 12:00 AM | 1487 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Juanita Hughes
Juanita Hughes
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My favorite poem/essay for this time of year is by W. H. Auden. Entitled “Well, So That is That …”, it wraps up our Christmas with an introspective glance and a muddled calendar for the days just ahead, that interim time between Christmas Day and the laborious return to normalcy.

“Now we must dismantle the tree … The holly and mistletoe must be taken down … the children got ready for school.”

“Warmed up leftovers … not that we need to eat or drink, having done too much of that. A touch of guilt in our unsuccessful attempts to “love all our relatives” and finally an humble admission that “once again we have sent Him away, begging though to remain His disobedient servant, the promising child who cannot keep his word for long.”

It seems in recent years that folks are picking up on the Twelve Days of Christmas activities as more of us are becoming aware that those 12 days are not the days preceding Christmas Day, but, instead, are the 12 days beginning with Christmas Day, or, as some observe, beginning the day after Christmas.

Epiphany, the visit of the Magi, is celebrated by many believers on Jan. 6, the twelfth day after Christmas.

It seems the perfect occasion to wrap up the gift-giving season. In fact, in some Christian traditions gift-giving is observed on each day of the twelve, corresponding to the 12 months with each day representing a wish for a corresponding month. How the merchants would love that!

The catchy poem/song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with its endless list of mind-boggling gifts has its own legendary story about the different meanings behind the gifts and especially the connection with Biblical teachings. (That meaning might be lost in the pricing in today’s market. This year the cost of the gifts stands at $107,000.)

While no longer a teaching tool, the song and its symbolism has worked its way into the celebration, although often in the days before Christmas rather than afterward.

I have finally memorized it, and it helps me pass the time on the treadmill, along with other often meaningless stuff in my memory bank.

I have begun to question a few things about the words. Why are the first five gifts motionless? A partridge, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, and golden rings, all just sitting there.

The other seven items are very busy …laying (eggs, I presume), swimming, milking (cows, I presume), dancing, leaping, piping, and drumming.

The melody also changes after the golden rings. Surely there is a sermon there somewhere.

In the meantime, shopping and wrapping and exchanging gifts are behind us for another year.

We’ll enjoy the tree for a few more days, and bask in fresh memories and fruitcake and perhaps some extra time with family and friends.

Perhaps we’ll work in some Magi stories, armed with Nelson Price’s version of the travel mode of those Wise Guys (he says they rode mules, not camels) and some Family Circus cartoons featuring those precious little kids who must be the models for the saying “out of the mouths of babes.”

Operating on the age-old assumption that the Magi were present at the Nativity, one of them surmised that the Wise Men came to baby-sit so that Mary and Joseph could go caroling.

The Big Story is just too complicated for the little ones. Like so many of us, they know just enough to be dangerous.

A recent trip to the cemetery proved this point. We (granddaughter Samantha and her 5-year-old twin girls and their 6-year-old sister and I) met at Enon Cemetery to do a little weed-pulling and changing out the florals from autumn to Christmas at the grave of our daughter Mary who died 14 years ago.

Samantha was trying to set the scene by explaining who was buried there. First she told them it was their grandmother.

That made no sense; they see their paternal grandmother every day.

Then she said, “It’s Nanny’s daughter.” They think daughters are little girls, like them. Finally one of the twins noticed the wooden cross that is a part of the gravesite, so she made the big announcement.

“Here’s the cross! It’s Jesus who is buried here!” That settled the matter as far as the girls were concerned, and they went about their play, wandering throughout the cemetery, reading markers, and even staging a zombie chase.

So that is that. Another Christmas for the books unless you want to extend your celebration to Epiphany.

Sounds good to me.

Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.
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