Christmas to Epiphany
The Twelve Days of Christmas is a festive Christian season, beginning on Christmas Day (25 December), to celebrate the nativity of Jesus. For some, this period is the same as Christmastide; for others, Christmastide lasts a little longer. The Twelve Days are different from the Octave of Christmas, which is the eight-day period from Christmas Day until 1 January. The Twelfth Day of Christmas falls on 5 or 6 January depending on the tradition followed. Similarly, Twelfth Night is commonly held to be 5 January, but some hold that it is 6 January. Traditionally, the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated on 6 January, which is either the last of the Twelve Days or the day immediately after them.
Unlike the term “Christmastide”, the term “Twelve Days of Christmas” has not been part of the traditional terminology of the official liturgical books of Christian churches.
Within the Twelve Days of Christmas, there are celebrations both secular and religious. Christmas Day itself is not only the liturgical feast of the Nativity of the Lord but also a major secular feast.
The following day, 26 December, is, as a saint’s feast, St. Stephen’s Day in the Western Church. In Britain and the former colonies, it is also the secular holiday of Boxing Day. In some parts of Ireland, it is known as Wren Day.
New Year’s Eve on 31 December is the feast of Saint Sylvester and is known also as Silvester. The transition that evening to the new year is an occasion for secular festivities in many countries, and in several languages is known by names such as Saint Sylvester Night: Notte di San Silvestro in Italian, Silvesternacht in German, Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre in French, סילבסטר in Hebrew.
New Year’s Day on 1 January is an occasion for further secular festivities or for rest from the celebrations of the night before. Liturgically it is, for the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God celebrated on the Octave Day of Christmas. It has also been celebrated and still is in some denominations as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ since by Jewish tradition he must have been circumcised on the eighth day (counting both the first day and the end day) after his birth. This day or someday close to it is also celebrated as the World Day of Peace by the popes and Catholic groups.
In many countries, Epiphany is now celebrated on the first Sunday after 1 January, which can fall as early as 2 January. That feast, then, together with customary observances associated with it, most often fall within the Twelve Day of Christmas, even if these are considered as ending on 5 January rather than 6 January.