Christmastide, the twelve days of Christmas

All we need to know about Christmastide, the twelve days of holy celebrations starting on Christmas Eve and ending on January 6th.

For most people, December 26th means the end of Christmas, as well as the Epiphany, represents the very end of Christmas Holiday. Yet, Catholic knows this is not true. December the 26th is just the beginning of a long season of celebrations and feast days. This is Christmastide, the twelve days of Christmas (also known as Twelvetide). 

What is Christmastide

Christmastide is a season of the liturgical year in most Christian churches, which starts on Christmas Eve at sunset or First Vespers, corresponding to the beginning of Christmas Day. Since this moment, the Advent season is officially closed.

Christmastide solemn days

There are several feast days within Christmastide:

  1. Christmas Day (December 25th), which marks the beginning of the Christmastide;
  2. St. Stephen's Day (December 26th) celebrating the very first Christian martyr;
  3. Feast of the St. John the Evangelist (December 27th), one of the most prominent Apostles of Jesus;
  4. Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28th), commemorating the "Massacre of the Innocents", perpetrated by order of Herod in an attempt to assassinate the Infant Jesus.
  5. Feast of St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop, and Martyr (December 29th);
  6. Feast of the Holy Family (December 30th). Read our blogpost on the Holy Family here→
  7. Feast of St. Sylvester (December 31st) who is allegedly the Pope who baptized Constantine the Great; 
  8. Solemnity of Mary, (January 1st), celebrated as Theotòkos, that is Mother of God;
  9. Feast of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church (January 2nd);
  10.  Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 3rd), which celebrates the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. “Jesus” comes from the Semitic verb “to rescue”;
  11. Epiphany or Twelfth Day of Christmas (January 6th), which commemorates the day of Revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles by means of the Adoration of the Magi.

These twelve days refer to the Christmas octave (eight official solemn days of rejoicing) as well as the four subsequent days which take us to the feast of Epiphany.
To be precise, on the traditional liturgical calendar, the Christmas season lasts 40 days. It begins with Midnight Mass and ends on February 2nd, Candlemas, the day on which we celebrate the feast of Jesus’ presentation in the temple.

The Twelve Days of Christmas (song)

This is one of the world’s most popular registered Christmas Carol. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a cumulative song, meaning that each verse is built on top of the previous. It enumerates a series of increasingly grand gifts given “by my true love” on each of the twelve days of Christmas. The song was first published in England in 1780 without music.