We’ve all heard the song, and most of us have probably sung it. “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I admit. I had no clue what that song was referring to all the time I was growing up. Twelve days? Which twelve days? I thought it referred to the twelve days before Christmas. It wasn’t until 2008 that I came to understand the deep beauty of the Twelve Days. My Second Christmas, as it were.
Let me tell you the story.
2008 was a particularly hard year for me. I was coming to grips with a deep personal loss I’d experienced two years prior, but hadn’t truly grieved. The loss itself is a story for another time. As the second anniversary of the loss drew closer, my grief began to build. I felt it coming like a slowly building tsunami, and in early September, it hit. It was hard. It was deep. And, despite the support of my family and friends, it was lonely. The Darkness (as I refer to that time) extended throughout the fall and into the Advent/Christmas season.
One thing you must know about me is that I dearly love the Christmas Season! I have always loved it. The decorations. The anticipation. The beauty. The Babe in a Manger. I love it all! That year, though, The Darkness hung like a murky blanket over everything. I couldn’t “get into” Christmas. I didn’t decorate. I might have sent out cards. I don’t remember. Probably not. I don’t think I even had an Advent Wreath, which I’d done without fail for 15 years or so by that point. I just didn’t have it in me. Grief is like that, sucking joy out of the things that bring the most joy.
On Christmas night, while driving home from my best friend’s house after spending Christmas with her and her family, I began to cry. Christmas was over, and I had missed it. I felt like I had slept through it and had just awoken to find it over. When I got home, I turned to a small group of online friends who had also been walking me through The Darkness. That’s when one of them said, “But Janet. Christmas isn’t over. It’s just begun. Haven’t you heard of the Twelve Days of Christmas?”
She went on to explain how the Twelve Days start with Christmas and end on Epiphany (well, actually the day before, I know). That I hadn’t really “missed” Christmas. That I could still celebrate. Right then, I took out my favorite Nativity set and wept as I put out the pieces. It was such a gift to be given. A Second Christmas of sorts.
Oh, but it gets better.
You see, in the Evangelical tradition, salvation is talked about as “asking Jesus into your heart.” I know other church traditions are different. For me, this occurred on Jan 6, 1985. My mom prayed with me and wrote the date in my childhood Bible. I’ve always known that date.
Did you notice it, though?
I did not make this connection until 2008. I didn’t know that Jan. 6 was even a religious date until I was an adult, and then I only knew that it was the day that the Magi coming to see Jesus was celebrated. I had only recently learned the name “Epiphany,” and had only just learned of it’s relation to Christmas and the Twelve Days. I had to learn more.
Webster’s defines Epiphany as: “a Christian feast day commemorating the revealing of Jesus as the Christ to the Gentiles.”
And that’s when God brought everything together for me.
The Magi from the East…. Gentiles…. kneeling before the Christ-child…. Recognizing Him as the king that He was/is….
1980+ years later…. 10 year-old me…. a Gentile… sitting in bed and recognizing Him as the Savior He is, and asking Him to be mine.
It was 2008, the year of The Darkness, when Christmas was so hard and I thought I had missed it, that I was “given” an entirely new Holiday to celebrate in a way that was deeply personal to me. It was so beautiful and so redemptive of such a dark time in my life.
I am so glad to be a part of a church now that celebrates Epiphany. Were it not for the Pandemic, we’d have a Twelfth Night Party. I was planning on making a traditional Twelfth Night Cake. Ah well, maybe next year.
Until then, Happy Epiphany, all!