The Real 12 Days of Christmas, A.K.A., Christmastide

Although today’s retailers push the twelve days leading up to Christmas Day as ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, those are not the actual days. The comical song, The Twelve Days After Christmas, is hilarious, but only perpetuates the misunderstanding. The days concerned are actually December 26 through Jan 6, the Day of Epiphany. They are also known as ‘Christmastide’. Surprised? Don’t feel too badly. Many people have been misled by this advertising gimmick.

The twelve days called ‘Christmastide’ make up the 2nd season of the Christian calendar. The color(s) used in churches during Christmastide is white and/or gold. Paraments used in worship services are usually white with gold trim and embroidery, needlepoint, or applique, as shown in the photo below. These colors are referred to as the liturgical colors. These colors are also used at Easter, and other times during the year.

The Partridge in the Pear Tree graphic is by James Barker at

What’s So Important About January 6?

Why is it twelve days? Why not ten days or fourteen days, or some other number? It is not a random number.

The evening of January 6 is often called ‘Twelfth Night’. The 12th day after the birth of the Baby Jesus is the day that the Three Wise Men arrived to present their gifts to the newborn baby and his parent.

Advent Precedes Christmastide

Advent is the first season of the Christian year, and is the season leading up to Christmas Day. The season of Advent begins on the first of the four Sundays preceding Christmas Day, and ends on Christmas Day. This year, Advent began on Sunday, November 30. In 2015, it will begin on Sunday, November 29.

Advent is all about preparing for, and looking forward to the coming event — the celebration of the birth of Christ. Christmastide begins on Christmas Day, and continues until the first day of the season of Epiphany, January 6. The liturgical color for Advent is purple — the color of royalty.

Chrismon Trees Begin the Season of Advent

Most Christian churches have “Chrismon” trees rather than Christmas trees in their sanctuaries. A Chrismon tree is a regular coniferous evergreen tree (living or artificial), but is decorated with Christian symbols. These trees are very meaningful to Christians. They are usually decorated in a ceremony called “The Hanging of the Greens”, in which the sanctuary is also decorated with wreaths and other greenery. This ceremony is done prior to the first Sunday in Advent.

The “greens” stay in place throughout Advent and Christmastide. Most Christian churches leave their Chrismon trees in place until the first Sunday in Epiphany has passed. That would be January 6, if it falls on a Sunday. Otherwise, it would be the the first Sunday after January 6.

This image courtesy of the folks at the United Methodist Building in the U.S. capitol city. You can visit them at