Today is the tenth day of Christmas. Up until the start of Queen Victoria’s reign, this would have been the tenth day of games and feasting, leading up to the extravagance of twelfth night, when a heavily spiced cake was served. The tenth day of feasting, of relaxation, of festival and of fun.
Of course, nowadays, the only people who still regularly observe all twelve days of Christmas are churches and church ministers, who follow the Christmas liturgies for all of the twelve days. I must admit, though, when I have attended church after Christmas day but before Epiphany, or twelfth night (6th January), it has always felt weird to still be singing Christmas carols and having decorations up.
From boxing day onwards our shops are looking forwards to the next ‘thing’. From the 1st January our culture is focused on weight loss, diet, exercise and restricting ourselves. Only the church preserves the memory of the old twelve days of feasting.
The reasoning behind the change makes sense of course. In the past, a rural economy could do very little out in the fields in mid-winter. An industrial, urbanised economy didn’t have such restrictions. So those who undertook traditional farming jobs could afford twelve days off but factory workers has no such luxuries. The fact that industrialisation coincided with new Victorian commercialisation and the importing of several German customs by Prince Albert all served to dismiss the old twelve-day feast as impractical, old fashioned and slow.
But I don’t think it needs to be. There are many things that could be done over the entire twelve days of Christmas, not necessarily to extend the glitz and tinsel of 25th December but instead to make it a festival of care and of thought. Such things might be:
Inviting different people to join you for your evening meal every day of the 12 days;
Using each day to reflect on a month of the past year, and/or a month of the year to come;
Planning and researching New Years’ resolutions you can stick to;
Singing a Christmas carol every day;
Giving to 12 different charities, one each day, either a monetary gift or a charity shop donation or voluntary time;
Make a phone call each day to a distant friend or relative and have a conversation;
Call on elderly relatives and neighbours to check they are prepared for January’s and February’s bad weather, and stay a while to chat;
Make a point of sitting together as a family at the table to eat dinner;
Play board games or watch movies together as a family each night, or invite friends and neighbours to join you.
There are so many other ideas of course. Anything involving reflection, giving, being sociable or generous. And many of these would still fit in with going back to work or school. So perhaps we can still enjoy and celebrate all twelve days of Christmas after all – it will just need a bit of planning.